How Brexit labour shortages are transforming the UK job market

May 5, 2023

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8 min

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In 2020, the UK officially withdrew from the European Union. In the wake of Brexit, there’s been a somewhat radical socioeconomic and political shift on an international scale. 

Since departing from the EU, the UK has been struggling with impeded economic growth and increasing inflation. This has intersected with a dramatic decrease in international investment. The economic hardship has had a profound and widespread social impact and the UK labor market has completely transformed. More specifically, there’s a drastic labour shortage, with reports stating that there’s a shortfall of 330,000 workers, and this figure is growing. 

The relationship between Brexit and UK labour

Since Brexit, many EU citizens have had to return to their home countries as they could no longer legally reside in the UK. This sudden change of legislation was highly disruptive. Before 2020, EU and UK citizens could move, work, and live in either of the two regions. They could do so with ease, as they didn’t require work permits or visas. But Brexit revoked these privileges. 

This has resulted in a complete reconfiguration of the UK’s labor market. While this reconfiguration has led to socioeconomic instability and financial anxiety, there are still new opportunities that the global workforce can explore. One of these is remote work. Working from home became the norm during the pandemic, which also tied in with the timing of Brexit. This encouraged an international work-from-home culture that has since largely remained in place. 

Brexit and COVID-19

Covid-19 made the labor shortage in the UK dramatically apparent. It lifted the veil on a nationwide professional crisis and the reality was hard-hitting. It’s estimated that over ten thousand healthcare workers were forced to leave Britain’s National Healthcare Service (NHS) due to Brexit, as they had to return to their home country. This meant that the UK’s healthcare system battled desperately to care for hospitalized citizens at the peak of the pandemic. 

The hospitality and agricultural industry were similarly affected by labor shortages. In 2023, research indicates that job vacancies in the UK are at an all-time high. This labor vacuum, which persists three years after the referendum continues to be driven, in part, by a dramatic shortfall in the healthcare sector.  

Healthcare crisis aside, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated an international remote working culture with unprecedented speed. Naturally, this applied to individuals with a certain degree of privilege, as many factory workers and cashiers still had to risk going to work every day to sustain themselves and their families. 

According to the Office for National Statistics, 46.6% of workers in the UK worked from home in 2020 and, of this group, close to 90% of them did so as a result of the pandemic. Many companies equipped their employees with the necessary resources to work from home in an effort to ‘stop the spread’ of the Covid-19 virus. Somewhat ironically, this created greater opportunities for employing foreign individuals as technology transcended the need to live where you work. 

How is the UK embracing remote work?

In an increasingly online world, flexibility and adaptability are absolutely essential. To adapt to a changing labor market, UK-based companies have dramatically altered their recruitment strategies. There’s an increased demand for skilled workers, and companies are offering highly competitive salaries for talented individuals. These revised recruitment strategies account for remote working, which has meant that employment opportunities are available to individuals living outside of the UK. 

Despite the result of the EU referendum, employers will consistently value skill over nationality. Companies in the UK are just as willing to employ EU citizens as they are UK individuals. If anything, they may be more eager considering the apparent lack of skilled labor. Professional relationships have continued to cross international boundaries and remote work is to thank for this. 

The primary benefit of working online is that you can access work in other cities and countries without visas or costly relocation fees. The same is true in reverse. You can continue working for your existing company without it preventing you from relocating. 

While online work allows for spatial flexibility, it’s generally supportive of temporal flexibility too. Online jobs typically allow for a greater variation in an employee’s schedule. If you’re meeting your targets and you’re logging the right number of hours, then the nine-to-five concept becomes surprisingly malleable. 

The UK tech industry

The tech industry in the UK has long been a highly competitive hub of innovation. It has proven itself to be a world leader in the emerging field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Since the EU referendum, the UK’s tech industry has faced financial challenges and had to change the way it manages and stores data. But, more importantly, it has struggled to sufficiently address the shortage of skilled labor within the field. 

Large tech companies have expanded their training budgets to target promising young UK citizens in an effort to fill the gap in skill and labor from within the UK. While new opportunities are emerging in the UK, Brexit has dislocated the tech industry in a way that has allowed for increased opportunities in many European cities. Berlin has emerged as a front-runner in recruiting talent as well as immense venture capital. 

Looking ahead

Brexit set in motion a colossal wave of social, economic, and political change. While this shift has presented a number of complex challenges, it has also created a vast array of opportunities—particularly for employment. National investment in talent development has reached new highs with a specific focus on the tech and innovation industry. 

The UK government has launched the Global Talent Visa aimed at attracting highly skilled individuals from all over the world. It covers a rather broad scope of expertise, including arts, science, and digital technology. 

Furthermore, exciting employment opportunities are also emerging in other European cities. The most notable phenomenon is the role that technology has played in removing the limiting factor of place. Brexit hasn’t prevented remote work from crossing international borders. In fact, despite its downside, your dream job is now more accessible than ever before.  

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