Post-Brexit: businesses must focus on L&D

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The post-Brexit economy will undoubtedly change the way businesses operate in the UK. Whichever side of the debate you're on, one thing that should unite different industries is the importance of investing in training, to ensure a sustainable workforce.

Recent weeks have seen Brexit barely leave the headlines. It’s at the forefront of everyone’s minds, with businesses, in particular, bearing the brunt of the uncertainty.

Despite a draft agreement being reached between the UK Government and the EU, the situation is still unpredictable.

But amongst all the moves and negotiations, there’s been little thought towards talent - acquiring new employees and retaining current ones.

Many businesses are taking steps to mitigate any negative impacts from a no-deal Brexit. British Airways’ owner IAG is in talks with the Spanish Government to be seen as a Spanish company post-Brexit.

Panasonic plans to move Head Office to Amsterdam and HSBC is following suit, with seven offices being relocated to Paris.

But amongst all the moves and negotiations, there’s been little thought towards talent - acquiring new employees and retaining current ones.

Focus on upskilling

If Brexit makes UK companies less competitive in the recruitment market, businesses will have little choice but to focus on upskilling and retraining their existing employees.

The EU already has a skills gap, with 44% of Europeans reported as lacking digital skills, despite a prediction that nine in 10 jobs will require them in the future.

For the UK, this will be compounded by Brexit - if there is no free movement of people between Europe and Britain.

Limits imposed by a no-deal Brexit

Career development opportunities in global firms may become more limited if free movement becomes difficult between the EU and UK.

International companies that promote opportunities to work abroad may find themselves facing extra hassle and expense when seconding employees between Europe and Britain.

Lateral job moves may become more common, as well as stretch assignments to help employees build new skills.

Investing in the retraining and upskilling of current workforces may prove a strong buffer for any Brexit brain drain.

If people cannot work in the UK, or if the process for getting a work permit becomes cumbersome and expensive, then it’s likely they’ll look at other European business hubs for work.

Paris and Amsterdam have already been mentioned as the new European locations for many global businesses. Dublin, Frankfurt, Luxembourg and Madrid are other contenders.

New recruits may, therefore, become scarce in the UK, making homegrown talent much more appealing. Investing in the retraining and upskilling of current workforces may prove a strong buffer for any Brexit brain drain.

Options for learning and development

There are many options available to employees wishing to upskill or completely change career path. General Assembly offers short courses or one day tasters in different disciplines such as data science, and there are numerous MOOCs (online courses) offered by institutions like the Open University. Plus other course providers like Lynda and Udemy.

After Brexit, businesses will need anything that can help ensure competitiveness and sustainable performance in the global market.

Condé Nast, L'Oréal and Visa have used General Assembly to address skills gaps in their organisations. Automotive company Ford has partnered on an upskilling programme with Semta (the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies) to improve its plant production and business processes.

Julie Belinger, Employee Affairs, Change and Learning Manager at Ford’s Dagenham plant explained: “We recognise that investment in training delivers benefits to the bottom line, as well as helping to secure a sustainable, competitive future for the plant.”

After Brexit, businesses will need anything that can help ensure competitiveness and sustainable performance in the global market.

Putting words to action

Of course, knowing that upskilling employees is a good tactic doesn’t always translate into action. Especially when businesses are addressing critical concerns over supply post-Brexit or negotiating licenses and ability to trade.

Business as usual has to be maintained, whilst also investing in skills for the future. It’s a tough balance to strike and one that may need revisiting as the Brexit situation is still very fluid.

Some tough, strategic decisions may have to be made by leadership teams about what to start, what to stop, when to continue a learning programme, and the core capabilities to prioritise.

The non-Brexit benefits of upskilling

Upskilling an existing workforce has many benefits regardless of Brexit, however. There are knock-on effects on productivity, morale, job satisfaction and retention.

Housebuilder Crest Nicholson created a learning programme to address the critical skills shortage in the UK’s construction sector. Through employee training and better talent management, the company experienced a 5% decrease in turnover and more diversity in its workforce.

Retailer Pets at Home implemented a specialised animal medicine qualification for its employees to help employees better understand pet care and improve animal welfare in its stores.

Many employees can now dispense medicines that were previously supplied through vet clinics and its medicine sales have exceeded targets by £2 million.

Investing in retraining for employees can also change a company culture, as UK retailer River Island discovered. It was suffering from high levels of employee dissatisfaction, so brought in a training programme for its managers. One thousand employees have completed the online course so far, causing a fundamental shift in its management culture.

Brexit slow-down creates a learning culture

A learning culture may not just develop within organisations, but also with recruits and employees if Brexit negatively impacts the economy.

This shift towards learning presents a valuable opportunity for businesses to promote lifelong growth and development.

An economic slowdown will lead to fewer jobs, meaning employees are more likely to invest in their employability. Fewer jobs means more competition, so recruits may do intensive courses via the General Assembly and other education companies to boost their job prospects.

This shift towards learning presents a valuable opportunity for businesses to promote lifelong growth and development. Providing employees with a budget to invest in their skills, whether that’s learning something new or refreshing current ones can set businesses apart in the market and recruitment. It also provides the talent needed as a company evolves - which many businesses may end up doing after Brexit.

Benefits whatever the Brexit

Brexit is still a shifting concern for businesses. There’s a lot left to clarify and not a lot of time left to do it.

For business leaders, investing in the learning and development of employees might give some breathing space if a no-deal does occur.

Investing in a learning culture has other perks, however. So if the best case with Brexit does occur, businesses that have built a strong learning culture will still benefit in the long run. One thing is certain for today’s businesses, learning has a future for everyone - Brexit or no-Brexit. 

About Karina Brown

Karina Brown founder GroHappy

Karina is co-founder at the employee growth company GroHappy. Before this, she worked at Jaguar Land Rover as Product Lead for its InMotion division and at EY as Senior Strategy Consultant.

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