Skip to content

Manufacturers must have access to skills in a post-Brexit world

01 Aug 2017

Verity Davidge, Head of Education & Skills at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, looks at the role EU nationals play in the manufacturing and engineering workplace.

It has now been over a year since Britain voted to leave in the EU referendum. A key priority for manufacturers continues to be ensuring that the government addresses the acute skills gap evidence in the UK and delivers the pipeline of talent we need in our industry now and in the future. For manufacturers to continue to be able to grow, invest, export and innovative, they need the ability to recruit workers from across the globe. In particular, they will need a steady supply of EU nationals well beyond 2019.

The invaluable role EU nationals play

Our recent report, Making migration work for manufacturers, highlights the invaluable role EU nationals play in the manufacturing and engineering workplace. Indeed, over three-quarters of manufacturers have at least one EU national working in their business. The myth that EU nationals fill solely lower-skilled roles needs to be debunked. We’ve found that EU nationals are as likely to fill mid and high skilled roles such as technicians and professional engineers as they are lower-skilled posts.

There are an array of reasons why manufacturers recruit EU nationals, from their foreign language skills, which can help support them to fulfil export ambitions, to being posted workers or part of intra-company transfers, which enables global companies to not just sell into new markets but to service them.

But primarily it is because manufacturers do not get a sufficient number of applications from UK nationals, a reason cited by a staggering 64% of employers. Coupled with this concern around quantity, is one of quality, with a third of companies saying UK nationals lack the skills needed to fill the role. With 35% of vacancies in manufacturing already consider hard to fill, it is worrying what this figure could be in the future, if there was a cut off in supply of EU nationals.

A challenge to employers will be to increase investment in training of new and existing employees and we are proud that so many EEF members are ahead of the game. Last year 66% of manufacturers committed to recruiting an engineering apprentice and two-thirds have plans to recruit engineering graduates. But this must be coupled with access to the right people with the right skills from across the globe.

How to ensure access to skills in a post-Brexit world

Access to the skills required in the short term and long term is integral for manufacturers. It must be at the heart of the government’s plan in securing the right deal for the UK and the success of manufacturers up and down the country.

The Government must deliver a demand-led migration system that meets the needs of industry. Manufacturers need continued access to lower-skilled labour at least until a point where the UK market can meet the needs of industry. An independent body, such as the Migration Advisory Committee, is best placed to determine where these shortages are and when this transitional point has been reached.

There must also be continued access to skilled labour, with Government looking again at their own definition of “skilled.” If an EU migration model in any way mirrored that of the non-EU migration system, which can very simply be described as complex and costly, this would be extremely damaging to business.

This must be accompanied by the ability of international employers who need mobile employees who can move around their business can continue to do so, whether through intra-company transfer programmes or posting workers to other member states so they can install and service products.

And finally, we cannot forget the integral role students’ play, and the talent pool they create upon graduating. There should be no restrictions in place for EU students coming and studying in the UK and then having the ability to work upon completion.

Manufacturers don’t expect something for nothing. They will continue in their request to train the next generation of scientists, technologists and engineers. With fresh commitments to recruit and train more young people, employers will play their part in closing the skills gap. But if we want to prevent a skills cliff edge, government must ensure that industry has global access to skills in a post-Brexit world.

Related articles

Why Does the UK Need an Ageing Workforce Strategy?
24 January 2023

The Physiological Society’s policy team on the health challenges facing older workers and the urgent need to develop a strategy to ensure older people are happy and healthy at work.

Let’s Support Deep Tech Innovators
30 March 2022

Jo Reynolds, Director of Science and Communities at the Royal Society of Chemistry, on the RSC’s new summary report looking to unlock the potential of deep tech SMEs.

Essential skills for tomorrow’s workforce
22 March 2022

Lisa Morrison Coulthard, Research Director at the National Foundation for Education Research, on the Nuffield Foundation funded five year research programme providing insights into the essential employment skills needed for the future workforce

Future options for international collaboration
12 November 2019

Sir Adrian Smith, Institute Director and Chief Executive of The Alan Turing Institute, and Graeme Reid, Professor of Science and Research Policy at UCL, set out the findings from their new independent report on international partnership opportunities for UK research and innovation