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Riders on the Storm Be-IT, Covid and the overseas candidate market, post-Brexit

Riders on the Storm Be-IT, Covid and the overseas candidate market, post-Brexit

Posted on 23rd June 2021

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A year ago, as we became accustomed to working from home and wondering if the economy would ever recover, Brexit was not exactly top of mind for recruiters.  Surviving was the name of the game.  The recruitment market not so much fell as plummeted towards the abyss.  For Be-IT, it was a time of retrenchment, battening down the hatches and making uncomfortable choices as we strove to ride out the storm.

Fast forward to today and the storm has, in our specialised arena at least, not so much abated as totally dissipated.  In our eight years in business we have never been busier, as evidenced by the fact that Be-IT has been hiring again in the last few months and will grow our headcount by 25% this year. 

The jobs are there, of that there is no doubt. Companies are constantly on the phone seeking our specialist IT market knowledge. On the other side of the recruitment equation, quality candidates, not exactly plentiful pre-pandemic, are now, for some jobs, in hens’ teeth territory. With that in mind, it was instructive to read last week of the survey by the giant job-board Indeed, exploring the overseas candidate market.  The changes in UK immigration policy, plus the impact of Brexit, have indeed (pardon the pun) had an effect.

There is quite a change from last year.  Analysis by the accountants BDO of the UK’s visa and immigration data, published in November 2020, showed that UK tech had been the hardest hit of any sector by a fall in skilled worker visa applications from non-EU citizens since the referendum in 2016. Overall, BDO calculated that the number of non-EU skilled workers applying to enter the UK tech sector had fallen by 17%, from 23,700 in 2015-16 to 19,700 in 2018-19. Indeed’s statistics show that searches for UK jobs from EU workers were 36% down compared to 2019 (and 45% down since the referendum in 2016). What’s happening now to make me more confident?

The study by Indeed shows a changing picture, with a reduction in interest from the EU coming as interest from the rest of the world is rising.  The former is likely to be partly as a result of the ending of freedom of movement for EU citizens at the beginning of 2021, although the pandemic has, undoubtedly, paid a major part in this too, as has the resolution of the Brexit debate. 

Whether you or I like it or not, the Brexit die has been cast and, unlike in the years of doubt and confusion between the referendum and 2019, we know the likely direction of travel. Although there are some die-hards holding out for a chance to revisit the referendum result, it has to be said that in the short time since we officially left the EU, while not everything has gone right (especially in Northern Ireland), many of the gloomiest predictions have not come to pass. 

The biggest impact on jobs, unsurprisingly, has been on lower paid, often seasonal, employment in hospitality, retail, leisure and agriculture. Obviously, many of these industries have had (far) fewer jobs available, leading to less interest from European candidates, and many of the EU citizens living here have returned to their own countries as their work dried up.  However, the effect of the reduction in candidates in these fields while it is yet to play out, should, in theory, result in higher wages and, I suspect, higher productivity through more use of technology and efficient working practices as business owners continue to seek opportunities to reclaim lost ground. The importance of having reliable and efficient technology has been clearly demonstrated during the pandemic as businesses pivoted online and it’s only going to increase, which, in turn, will create even more demand for skilled IT professionals.

According to the Indeed analysis, these IT professionals are increasingly to be found overseas. They identified foreign candidates searching on the Indeed UK site via their IP addresses and noted that searches from outside the EU rose steeply at the start of this year and are now at pre-pandemic levels. Tellingly, it is higher-paid roles that are particularly attractive. Commonwealth countries (especially India) and, unsurprisingly, Hong Kong were the source of many searches.  With many Hong Kong citizens being UK passport holders, not to mention highly educated, technologically astute and extremely entrepreneurial, there is an obvious opportunity for tech recruiters to tap into this market if they can.

More specifically, and again highlighting the opportunity for firms like ours, Indeed recorded that of the top ten job titles searched for, tech vacancies accounted for half, with Higher Education jobs being the next most important.  In general, software jobs such as Android developers and various SAP roles were popular and Indeed has explicitly said that employers seeking to fill high-paid jobs (not just in tech but also in financial services, medicine and engineering) should be able to hire from around the world.  The changes in the UK’s regulations for immigration to the new, points-based system (which you can see here) will, in time, help our clients to bring in fresh blood from across the world, improving both the technical skills and the diversity of their organisations.

Let’s end on a note of cautious optimism. The pandemic has distorted everything and Ruth Lea, economic adviser to the Arbuthnot Banking Group, as quoted in Insider Voice, says this means the jury is currently out on the long-term impact that Brexit might have on recruitment.  But bear in mind that this increased interest in our tech jobs from the wider global IT community is happening despite the continuing slowness of the UK to exit lockdown. Barring disaster, the war against Covid has been won: it will just take time to roll out the vaccines across the planet.  Think what it might be like when the UK’s doors are truly flung wide open…

Michael Phair, Operations Director, Be-IT

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