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Can the UK tech industry avoid a post-Brexit brain drain?

In the build-up to the EU referendum last year, few topics were debated more hotly than immigration. Almost a year later, the extent to which we should tighten our borders is dominating Brexit discourse once again. Article by Mehul Patel, Hired CEO.
uk tech

In the build-up to the EU referendum last year, few topics were debated more hotly than immigration.  Almost a year later, the extent to which we should tighten our borders is dominating Brexit discourse once again. Article by Mehul Patel, Hired CEO.

Whatever your views, there’s no denying that many British industries rely on foreign workers. In fact, the Office for National Statistics estimates that one in ten UK workers was born outside of the UK. If that supply is going to be shortened, something needs to happen in its place to ensure those sectors continue to thrive. Tech is one such industry, having relied heavily on overseas candidates thanks to a shortage of available talent on home soil. At Hired, we’ve found that demand is so high for certain skills that UK firms offer foreign workers with those skills an average of 28 percent more than local candidates. As a result, those foreign workers have contributed to one of Digital Britain’s greatest success stories – a recent report found the tech sector is growing twice as fast at the wider UK economy and that digital jobs are being created twice as fast as non-digital ones. Now, however it seems progress is in danger of being stifled by Brexit and the tougher stance on immigration that is likely to come with it.

The impact so far
According to recent data gathered by Hired on Brexit’s impact of on tech hiring, since last summer’s vote to leave the EU, the number of foreign tech candidates accepting offers from UK firms has fallen by more than 50 percent. This effectively cuts the country’s pool of foreign tech talent in half. Even foreign candidates already working in the UK are now 20 percent less likely to accept a job offer from another UK firm, our research found. Although a reduction in interest from foreign tech candidates is worrying for the UK, Hired’s data shows that the Brexit effect has also impacted how likely employers are to hire foreign talent. For example, since the referendum last year, the number of UK tech firms making offers to foreign candidates has fallen by almost 30 percent, while the total number of offers to foreign workers has gone down by a staggering 60 percent. Brexit is having an impact on local talent too, which is especially worrying given that companies will increasingly need to rely on these individuals to continue to power the digital economy. Seventy percent of UK tech workers say they’ve considered leaving the UK in the wake of Brexit, mostly to other European cities, but also to North America and Australia.

Inaction is not an option
The current uncertainty characterising the political landscape is causing both job seekers and employers to act with understandable caution. As the UK maps out a more definitive plan to leave the EU, and key issues like skilled worker visas come into sharper focus, both sides should get a better understanding of the rules of engagement. But in the meantime what we can say with confidence is that everyone – private tech firms, governments and educational institutions alike – needs to contribute towards making the UK an attractive place to work in the coming months and years, not just for overseas candidates but for local ones, too. This could mean focussing on some of the areas highlighted in our Dream Jobs report, such as work-life balance and professional development. It could also mean addressing the low pay issue for local candidates and ensuring UK tech is an attractive career choice for those born and educated in this country. But ‘marketing’ a tech career in this way should really begin at school level, so there’s a role for all of us to play in taking that message to young people.

By revealing our research findings, we aim to focus attention on some of the issues the UK tech sector currently faces in light of the Brexit result, and hopefully they can act as a catalyst to start addressing them. Britain has a proud history as a global tech hub. Our hope is that it continues to attract some of the best and brightest talent, not just from the EU, but from around the world.

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