Is NI headed for a skills Brexodus?
Cathal O’donnell, Regional Director at Brightwater
Described as the mass exit of individuals, particularly EU nationals, and corporations from the UK, there’s no doubt ‘Brexodus’ has the potential to cause major disruption to the economy if the critics’ fears ring true. As with many of the potential negative outcomes from Brexit, it would seem that due to Northern Ireland’s unique geographic, economic and political status it could have more to lose than most when it comes to a possible Brexit-influenced migration.
Some commentators have suggested that the political impasse, the seemingly never-ending Brexit uncertainty and the scaremongering of a hard border will tempt both NI natives and their EU counterparts to relocate south of the border where they can remain part of the EU.
Our close proximity to the Republic of Ireland could make this a more appealing and easily-actioned option as workers navigate the ongoing Brexit ambiguity.
Of course this skills retention problem is nothing new. Northern Ireland has been here before with the well-documented brain drain — the phenomenon which was heightened during the Troubles whereby the brightest and best students would leave to study elsewhere and never return.
This is a trend which has lessened to varying degrees in the peace years with many returning home when they start a family. Nevertheless, it is still an issue which could return.
Reassuringly, at Brightwater a skills Brexodus isn’t something we have seen taking hold in Northern Ireland.
Our clients are naturally cautious and have been making any preparations they can. Despite job opportunities and good pay, a move south still has many other factors to take into consideration, such as housing costs, health and education fees and the overall cost of living.
And whilst UK cities like London, Manchester and Bristol rate highly among young, skilled professionals, we haven’t noted a significant change in the pattern and volume of migration there.
Understandably, Brexit remains high on the agenda for firms and candidates alike as they look ahead to the economic landscape. Whilst uncertainty surrounding business deals and decisions about recruitment may have slowed things somewhat as we approached the original end-of-march deadline, the recurring theme among firms here is a desire to keep going and progressing with their business plans and therefore continued recruitment which helps build confidence in the job market.
We have also seen many of our clients, particularly in the legal services and manufacturing sectors, significantly invest in Northern Ireland in recent years and they are committed to their teams here and won’t be making knee-jerk reactions based on what-ifs.
This progressive and determined mindset is heavily influenced by the high volume of SMES represented in Northern Ireland’s private sector, who can’t rest on the laurels of large multi-nationals and quite simply need to get on.
With this in mind, it’s important that businesses don’t waste the time afforded by the recent delay and do as much prep as possible. Despite the October 31 extension, there still remains significant uncertainty about the actual outcome of the EU referendum and despite it looking less likely, the risk of no-deal has not been excluded from one of the many possibilities.
The reality is that no-one knows the outcome of this long-debated change or how it will directly or indirectly impact the job market and those in it. In fact, any impact is unlikely to be felt instantly and will take a number of years before the real effect is felt. All we can do is work hard to ensure we have the best possible people for the job at hand and continue to build businesses to retain the great talent here.