Spotlight on: Brexit

As the dust starts to settle on the UK referendum of 23 June 2016 new challenges and opportunities begin to surface. One significant issue will be the impact that ‘leave’ has on talent and mobility for a professional generation that has come of age in a globalised world and places a premium both on flexibility and international experience. Will the UK be able to attract and retain the brightest and best talent when it leaves the EU?

Brexit’s talent challenge

Of all the issues raised by the UK referendum vote to leave the European Union the question of free movement of labour within Europe is one of the most pressing considerations for companies.

Having access to the necessary talent is essential to any growing economy. CEOs identified availability of key skills as one of the top four risks to business growth in our more recent CEO Survey so restricting the free movement of labour within the EU could potentially increase this risk. 

 As PwC’s Talent and Mobility: 2020 and Beyond report (part of our Future of Work series) clearly lays out mobility opportunities are recognised as a key element in attracting, retaining, developing and engaging talent.  The challenge for the UK government, then, is to ensure that businesses can still access the talent they need at all levels whatever new system is put in place.

Supporters of Brexit make the case that the UK will be able to attract an even greater pool of talent once it is no longer subject to EU rules.  That will be contingent on UK based companies being able to offer attractive employment opportunities at a time when talent mobility is key to stimulating economic growth and when professional workers expect mobility to be part of their career progression and growth.

For example, mobility and career flexibility are considered of special importance for female and millennial professionals. As PwC’s Moving Women with Purpose study showed, we are experiencing a time of unprecedented –and as yet unmet – female demand for international mobility. It found that 71% of female millennials want to work outside their home country during their career yet only 20% of the current internationally mobile population are women.

As a whole 64% of the women surveyed said opportunities to undertake international assignments were critical in attracting them to, and keeping them with, an employer. It seems clear then that, to be successful in attracting, hiring and retaining female talent, companies need to adopt a modern, more flexible approach to mobility. The UK could certainly benefit from better deployment of female talent. As PwC’s Women in Work report showed, the UK currently is missing out on up to £170bn worth of economic benefits by not having enough females in employment.

"64% of women said opportunities to undertake international assignments were critical in attracting them to, and keeping them with, an employer.

A key concern for UK-based companies is whether leaving the EU will put off future leaders from seeking work in the UK. Millennials will make up as much as 50% of the global workforce by 2020 and, as our Tomorrow’s Leaders Today report (conducted in association with young leaders movement AIESEC) makes clear, these young people have different ambitions from previous generations with mobility and experiences core to their world and life views.

When asked what makes an organisation an attractive employer AIESEC members were keen to stress the importance of workplace culture and behaviour, a commitment to diversity and inclusiveness and the ability to work internationally - 71% of millennials surveyed for the PwC Talent and Mobility report said they want and expect an overseas assignment during their career.

The UK’s challenge in attracting and retaining talent will very much depend on convincing this new generation of leaders that working there will continue to provide that global experience and relevance.

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Art Kleiner
Global Editor in Chief, PwC US

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