Poll of EU workers points to potential skills crisis for West firms as thousands say they will leave UK

August 31, 2017

Tens of thousands of EU workers in the South West could leave the UK over the next few years, potentially triggering a major skills headache for the region’s firms, according to a new survey.

Some 28% of all EU nationals working in the region say they are considering quitting their jobs, while 4% have already made up their minds to go, the poll by accountancy group KPMG reveals. 

When extrapolated across the South West’s entire EU workforce, this is equivalent to just over 43,000 potential leavers – a number that, if proved correct, would severely hit many of the region’s key sectors, including advanced engineering, IT and construction.

Worryingly, the survey also reveals that EU workers most likely to leave the country are what KPMG calls INDEYs – the independent, in-demand, educated and young.

Another potential problem for South West firms is the EU exodus could happen quickly – around half are planning to act before the end of next year and well ahead of the date when the UK will quit the EU.

The survey found that businesses have a key role to play in determining the scale of any potential Brexit brain-drain.

EU nationals want – but aren’t getting – a clear commitment from their employers that they want them to stay, with an alarming 69% saying they feel less welcome in the UK following the Brexit vote. 

KPMG senior partner in the South West, Andrew Hodgson, pictured, said: “It is difficult to predict what our EU citizens will ultimately choose to do, but what is clear is that the survey highlights just how important the actions of employers are going to be in the coming months.

“Brexit has seemingly affected the feeling of belonging for our EU citizens in the South West, and too few employers are doing enough to support their EU colleagues.

“Interestingly, the survey shows that the South West has the lowest number of potential leavers compared to the rest of the country. That said, the survey reveals a potentially serious situation for employers relying on EU staff, particularly those who employ a lot of ‘INDEYs’. The South West’s hospitality, health, and manufacturing sectors would be the hardest-hit.”

Across the UK, workers from EU countries account for 8% of the workforce, with some sectors such as hospitality, food processing and healthcare extremely dependent on them.

The international survey, which sampled 2,000 EU citizens working in the UK and 1,000 EU citizens from the 10 countries most likely to supply EU labour, also found:  

  • 88% of EU citizens in the South West think it is important to have a clear commitment from their employer that they want them to stay.
  • 76% of EU nationals working in the South West think it is important for their employers to publicly assert the importance of EU staff.
  • 69% of those surveyed in the South West said they felt less welcomed and valued here since the Brexit vote.
  • 49% of EU citizens in their home countries feel the country has fallen in desirability as a place to live and work. 

KPMG is urging South West firms to support their EU citizens. It says they should:

  • Understand how exposed their business is
  • Keep talking and listening to their workforce
  • Decide on a strategy to support staff with any new Home Office registration schemes
  • Consider where existing employee policies now need an immigration element

It also says employers should:

  • Conduct extensive workforce scenario planning and modelling
  • Be more proactive and imaginative in their efforts to recruit overseas workers
  • Re-examine investment in training and development
  • Overhaul pay and rewards
  • Understand the potential for robotics, artificial intelligence and automation.


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