By heralding Britain’s withdrawal from the principle of free movement of workers, Brexit could make it more difficult for brands to recruit talent from EU countries. In a letter to staff earlier this year, Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös warned that Brexit would affect the company’s hiring capabilities, as well as potentially driving up trade costs.
“Our employment base could also be affected, with skilled men and women from most EU countries included in the 30 nationalities currently represented at the home of Rolls-Royce here at Goodwood,” he said in the letter that was leaked to The Guardian newspaper.
Britain’s marketing, technology and creative industries are highly diverse and multinational, so curbs on EU immigration would affect many businesses’ recruitment practices. Figures from data intelligence company DueDil show that more than a fifth of British startups are led by foreign entrepreneurs, while the number of tech directors in Britain from EU countries has grown by 176% since 2010.
Twinn at ISBA believes brands and agencies will still be able to attract the best, most qualified people if Britain left the EU. This would involve using the work permit system currently used to determine whether non-EU migrants can work in Britain. “It would depend on what the government did post-leaving, but I can’t imagine that they would say companies can’t get the best talent globally in a global industry,” he says. “That’s already the case now with the rest of the world.”
However, as with the need for government to legislate to enable trade with Europe, the requirement for businesses to jump through immigration hoops creates inevitable delay and new administrative burdens.
Caroline Norbury, CEO at not-for-profit organisation Creative England, expresses concern about the potential talent gap, noting that finding suitable employees is one of the biggest challenges facing the UK’s fastest growing companies. “Brexit could compound this challenge by making it more difficult for talent from the continent to live and work here,” she says. “There may even be an exodus of the talent that is already here.”
Creative England, which funds films, tech startups and agencies, would lose its access to a range of EU funds in the event of Brexit. In addition, Norbury believes the creative industries could suffer from a general dearth of investment. “As the so-called gateway to Europe, we’re the number one destination for creative and digital sector inward investment in the EU and more international companies choose to base their European headquarters here than anywhere else,” she says.
“If we leave the EU, there’s a great deal of uncertainty as to whether that investment would continue and if those major international businesses would continue to base themselves on our shores.”