Brexit: Scotland waits for clarity on future role in Europe

Recruiters in Scotland will be waiting anxiously to hear the outcome of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s meeting with European Parliament President Martin Shulz in Brussels today (Wed 29 June) as the SNP leader bids to protect the country’s place in Europe despite the UK’s Brexit decision.
Wed, 29 Jun 2016

Recruiters in Scotland will be waiting anxiously to hear the outcome of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s meeting with European Parliament President Martin Shulz in Brussels today (Wed 29 June) as the SNP leader bids to protect the country’s place in Europe despite the UK’s Brexit decision.

The recruitment industry over the border is grappling with various slippery issues, from a lethargic candidate base with unrealistic pay expectations to a shrinking skills pool that obliges some to deploy staff abroad, where the talent is located, and then redirect it to Scotland. 

Scottish recruiters are anxious about what appears to be a lack of urgency from Whitehall in implementing a timetable of change since David Cameron’s decision to step down but also quiet optimism that red tape, which has often hampered the industry, will be shredded. Overall, though, the message is of quiet confidence that the recruitment sector is resilient enough to thrive.

Martin McCrum, managing director at Aspirare, is optimistic for the industry, but believes some endemic problems relating to Scotland’s economy need to be addressed.

“Leaving some of these unworkable EU directives behind will present us with good opportunities and we need a strong voice based here in the UK to be heard but until someone comes up with a plan to move on [post-Brexit], we will have no clarity,” said McCrum. “But we’ll survive because we’re the fifth biggest economic power in the world and business will go on.”

Although the UK voted by 52% to 48% to leave the trading bloc, those North of the border voted by to remain by 62%, suggesting once again that it may seek independence.

Aspirare places permanent and contract workers in engineering, construction, administration, IT, sales, and accountancy & finance sectors.

“Before the referendum there was an apathy in the Scottish labour market and there still is to a certain extent when it comes to candidates taking certain roles. That mindset will prevail unfortunately,” he says.

“I don’t think the appetite is there to take up some of the jobs we have available in Scotland even now. For example, we’ve been trying to fill a contract position for electricians at £16 an hour. That’s not enough for some people. They’d rather wait for something better but they will find it’s a false economy. However, if I get a Polish electrician with all the right certification and the right attitude, he would happily work for that rate. The client, however, is working to a budget and candidates need to understand that.

“The economy is measured in terms of jobs and we’re a barometer for this. The politicians won’t be able to hide any more and, if some form of constitutional change is the result of all of this, it may be just what is needed,” added McCrum.

In these early days since the referendum no one is sure just yet what will happen, and so cautious employers are beginning to claw back on plans to recruit – and there are fears of budgets being put on ice completely. On the other hand, restrictions on immigration, which underpinned the Leave campaign, and the uncertainty of what happens next to the economy could potentially increase the demand for contractors and temporary workers during the current void.

Earlier this week, Andrew Speers, chief executive of specialist oil & gas recruiter Petroplan, told Recruiter: “An area of particular interest for us will be the longer-term future of the UK in its current form. Scotland is a hub of the oil & gas sector, with many workers in the sector employed in Scotland or off its shore, so Scottish independence could certainly have an impact on the future of oil & gas recruitment.”

Contract Scotland, which supplies temporary and permanent staff to the wider construction industry from site administrator to director level, acknowledges that a period of uncertainty will prevail but, once again, a lot has yet to be clarified.

John-Paul Toner, operations director, said: “I don’t think our perspective is too different from the rest of the UK in terms of the result. It was something of a surprise and not what we hoped for but it’s still too early to say what is going to happen. 

“The construction industry has been suffering from a skill shortage from well before the referendum and this result can only add to this.”

The company currently has a consultant based in Spain whose job it is to identify talent and direct it to Scotland. Initiatives like this, though, will be difficult to maintain unless freedom of movement is protected in a post-Brexit UK.

“The industry needs to protect free movement of labour and needed talent somehow. While we remain in Europe, we are able to continue operating that model. There are so many variables to consider before we start to say with any certainty how competition for that increasingly decreasing talent pool will play out,” said Toner.

“Business dislikes uncertainty but we need to know a little more before can move on.

“We will work through this uncertainty and react accordingly when new political leaders are in place and when we know what the Brexit decision really means for our industry,” he added.

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