As the leading UK search firm, our clients and candidates are predominantly UK based. However because we often handle niche assignments seeking hard to find skills, we also regularly approach international talent to persuade individuals overseas to relocate to the UK. This has particularly been the case for clients involved in high tech or research driven industries.
Identifying and attracting senior overseas talent has never been easy and neither has managing their subsequent relocation. Recently we have noticed an increased difficulty in bringing talented individuals to the UK. There is a markedly ‘cooler’ response to our approaches from overseas candidates since the Brexit referendum result in 2016.
There is no doubt that many mainland Europeans feel the UK has made a huge mistake in opting to leave the EU. This often manifests itself in a knee-jerk “no” to an initial approach about a position here. Even if we are able to overcome this initial, visceral response there remains a perception that the UK, once seen as a progressive ‘open for business’ country, is no longer that. Many of the people we approach perceive, rightly or wrongly, that things have changed here, and that foreign nationals will no longer receive such a warm welcome in the UK.
Even individuals from territories with historically well-trodden paths to the UK, like the Commonwealth countries, North America and Ireland, are no longer as open to moving here. The weak pound, UK economic uncertainty and strong ‘home’ economies are certainly factors. Yet combine these with a lack of clarity around the future visa status and relocation to the UK is increasingly falling in to the ‘too hard’ category.
What is the solution? Clearly there is no going back on Brexit. Yet our ability to inform candidates about the future status and process for those moving to the UK remains hamstrung by the lack of clarity. In the absence of a coherent view, the highly skilled talent that our firms want are jumping to their own negative conclusions, and it is hurting UK business.
If the simple ‘quick fix’ of bringing in overseas talent is no longer as simple, then businesses may need to think differently. Planning a workforce to develop skills for roles which don’t yet exist is intrinsically difficult, but I feel a ‘grow your own’ approach to talent will become increasingly important for UK firms. There will also continue to be a role for head-hunters like us with a global network to help businesses bring international talent to the UK. Firms with experience overcoming both the logistical and psychological barriers of attracting talent to the UK will be even more important when an international search is required.