Time to carry out your BREXIT workforce planning?

By Helen Hardy, MD BeyondHR

Businesses are already dealing with the massive impact covid-19 has had on operational practices and now as we approach the end of the transition period post-Brexit, it raises many new questions for employers and employees. Here Helen Hardy, Managing Director at BeyondHR, (a leading Employment Law and HR Consultancy firm in Northern Ireland and Scotland) explains… 

We are still without complete clarity on the Brexit negotiation process and how this may impact businesses. Therefore, firms must now carry out its Brexit workforce planning to adapt where necessary, take control of the situation and avail of new opportunities as we wait to discover what the new normal will be.  

Many local firms employ globally mobile employees and as Immigration Law changes, it will be more difficult to bring skilled workers into businesses – thereby impacting significantly on the talent pool from which organisations can choose. This means that employees in Northern Ireland with specific skills will be in greater demand, making it harder to retain valuable employees and very much placing employees in the box seat. Alternatively, this provides an opportunity for firms to re-evaluate their business, identifying skills gaps and upskilling employees to develop talent from within. 

That being said, some companies will continue to bring in migrant workers and be willing to do the extra paperwork required (having to register, sponsoring workers and a mountain of administration tasks to be completed), however for many this may be an arduous task and not always possible. 

When the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, the ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ governing departure set an 11-month transition phase which ends on 31 December 2020 – with the deadline for extending this date now passed. Many items remain unclear and naturally employers and employees are growing concerned about what happens next. With many already concerned about job viability following Covid-19 it is paramount firms ensure that workers are kept informed during this uncertain period. 

With many open questions hanging in the air regarding the expected shape of the labour market as well as changes to the law and immigration policy, businesses should endeavour to ensure they have the necessary skills and workforce in place to meet business goals. Conducting Brexit workforce planning enables firm to prepare for alternative scenarios by trying to understand what the future may look like.  

With no trade agreement, companies may find it difficult to import and export goods as they regularly would, this could then have a knock-on effect on entire workforces as companies are forced to restructure their business in order to reduce costs in response to a decrease in sales. 

Restructuring the business may be a more favourable option to redundancy but this poses legal risk and needs to be carried our lawfully. By having flexibility in contracts, it would enable firms to retain valuable employees whilst responding to changing business needs. 

With the unclarity surrounding exact Brexit terms potentially continuing for the couple of years, firms should start planning now to minimise risk to business performance and workforce ability.   

Firms can seek help from HR companies as they navigate their way through Brexit implications to ensure that they are equipped to deal with the various new scenarios that may arise.