Brexit. Business and Talent in Northern Ireland. How do we Box Clever now?

Brexit. Business and Talent in Northern Ireland. How do we Box Clever now?

Like most business owners in Northern Ireland I awoke this morning like a cross between a startled rabbit and a confused meerkat. As a Recruitment and Talent Consultancy business owner with a HQ in the North West and a significant amount of business, clients and candidates coming from Europe the news that we are exiting Europe feels like a combination of a boot in the extremities followed by several jabs around the rib cage.

Perhaps more importantly the clearly more knowledgeable and informed Northern Ireland voter have voted to stay in the EU – however the problem now remains we are no longer in the ring – the fight is over, the corner stools have been shelved and we are now mere spectators of our destiny. In short we are going to have to change the rules of the game or change sport completely. Lets talk about some of the likely outcomes and scenarios across business and talent:

  • FDI Proposition: NI’s improving FDI proposition will be devastated. Any company looking to NI as an entry point to Europe will remove us from the shortlist. Corporation tax and a low operating cost will not be enough to tick the boxes. We will need to shift our focus to absolute niche parts of the global economy that are not reliant on general products and services with large scale competition across the global market place. We need to move this focus quickly. We are likely to have at least two years where FDI decisions are frozen due to uncertainty about the method and cost of trade post investment. Invest NI will have to focus more on growing local businesses in the interim.
  • Talent: Talent will follow money and investment. If the UK Economy can stabilise and show some sort of growth reasonably quickly talent and business will stick. Early signs are poor – sterling hits a 30-year low and billions are wiped off the stock exchange. We need to look beyond our neighbours quickly and establish new relationships over the next two quarters. Relationships will last long after any changes to trade agreements. Relationships outlast the fall of empires if managed properly.
  • Location: We have advanced our own business plan in terms of expansion in the Republic of Ireland. We need to ensure that we have a parity of process to sell to clients and attract talent within the European marketplace. A devalued pound also may have a positive impact on our operating cost in NI – comparative overheads will likely fall and we may be much more competitive than our competitors in the South. It’s a small olive branch but one which we will have to hold onto with stern white knuckles.

The Job Market: This is my best guess having been involved with recruitment over the last decade and worked across Europe with Fortune 500 to high growth start ups:

  • Talent will Leave?: The current ‘migrant’ population – we hate this term – lets use the term EU ex-pats, which probably sums up the new reality. There is no doubt that many staff from Europe who have lived and worked here (and who put more per capita into the economy that native citizens) will feel like a majority of the Country no longer wants them here – even if employers and businesses make them feel they need and want them to stay. EU ex-pats may well decide to simply go home or move to a more ‘accepting’ country. Think about nursing, hospitality, service industry, multi-lingual support centre staff. Recruitment businesses will have to play a key role in trying to find imaginative ways to plug this talent gap. However it’s less likely that niche or Executive level EU talent will make any rash decisions about movement in the short term.
  • Talent will stop Coming?: Further to above it’s hard to see how skilled EU workers will want to come to the UK even with a good commercial prospect. This means we will have to find a way to either skill up the ‘native’ workforce’ quickly (which would involve a radical overhaul of schools, universities and colleges) – this is not an easy path. In NI we will need to take control of this skills re-alignment quickly. Stormont… you need to get back to your desks and make some radical survival decisions. Why don’t we develop our own NI fastrack ‘visa’ process that will make entry for employment here fast, efficient and secure. Again will Executive Talent be really interested in coming to the UK right now… I would guess the decision has been made that little bit more difficult, even for a six-figure salary.
  • Service verses Export: Service businesses are likely to be less affected than export businesses – however a falling tide leaves everyone grounded. Export businesses may well have a lower production cost due to pound de-valuation however it remains to be seen how expensive doing business will be in the new world. Lets get as lean as we can to ride out the short-term storm. Hopefully the picture will begin to clear.
  • The Third Sector: Needless to say the Third Sector in Northern Ireland will likely be decimated – EU funding remains a core income stream for many. Boris is unlikely to plug the gap. There is some great talent in this sector; we need to support it, find a way to increase our levels of CSR within the private sector and play our part in supporting our local communities – more than ever before.
  • The Border: Lets not stop the free movement of people and trade across the border between NI and the Republic. 18,000 people every day travelling back and forward for work alone – stopping this is Trump Wall rhetoric. We all know how that could end.

The people who live and work in Northern Ireland are robust, imaginative and we have been through worse. The survival instinct is strong and with some dark humour and creativity we can get back into the ring… or rings. This time on horseback with a lance and a big helmet.