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Firms must act to avoid Brexit brain-drain

Karen Briggs

A major international survey commissioned by KPMG UK reveals that although 45 percent of EU citizens working in the UK plan to stay, 35 percent are considering leaving and 8percent have already made up their minds to go.  When extrapolated across the UK’s entire EU workforce, that’s a group equivalent to almost 1 million potential leavers, or 3.1 percent of the UK’s national workforce. From Karen Briggs: Head of Brexit at KPMG.

The survey also reveals that businesses have a key role in determining the scale of any potential Brexit brain-drain with some 51 percent of EU nationals working in the UK wanting to hear a clear commitment from their employers that they want them to stay.

According to the research, the EU workers most likely to leave the UK are what KPMG UK is calling ‘INDEYs’, the independent, in-demand, educated and young.  Illustrating this point 50 percent of respondents with PhDs and 39 percent of those with postgraduate degrees said they are thinking about leaving the UK. Similarly 52 percent of those earning £50k – £100k said they plan to leave or were thinking about it.

Explaining the findings, Karen Briggs Head of Brexit at KPMG said: “Our survey highlights how important the actions of employers are going to be if the UK is to avoid a Brexit brain-drain.  Although almost half of the EU citizens working in the UK plan to stay, what other EU citizens choose to do is definitely hanging in the balance.  Against this backdrop we expect to see increased competition for talent between employers over the coming years, and numerous firms seeking to supplement their workforce with AI, robotics and automation.”

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: 39 percent of EU nationals working in the UK want their employers to publicly assert the importance of EU staff. 50 percent of those surveyed in the UK said they felt less welcomed and valued here since the Brexit vote.

53 percent of those surveyed in the UK reported that the UK’s “big and generous” offer on citizens’ rights has made no difference to their thinking. 49percent of EU citizens in their home countries feel the UK has fallen in desirability as a place to live and work. Discussing ‘INDEYs’, Punam Birly, Head of Employment & Immigration at KPMG said:

“Our survey reveals a serious situation for employers relying on EU staff.  Particularly those who employ a lot of ‘INDEYs’, or independent, in-demand, educated and younger workers. Looking at the evidence, too few employers are doing enough to support their EU employees and that means the UK is vulnerable to losing some of its IT professionals, creative minds, engineers and specialist finance professionals, to name but a few.

“Compounding this issue we’re seeing a reduction in applications from EU citizens to UK universities.  This could create a high-end talent pipeline problem – and a shortage of chemists, linguists, and other budding professionals.  At the very top end of the graduate market, those who are most sought after, and thus most highly rewarded, will be the biggest issue for employers.”