Hiring in the UK while battling the Brexit brain drain

Mark Howard-Banks, Head of Scientific Recruitment at ResearchGate

Brexit uncertainty has resulted in anxiety amongst UK organisations. Across industry, academia, and the public sector, hiring managers and recruitment professionals are concerned that the current political climate will adversely impact their ability to attract talented international professionals. These concerns are justifiable, but also — fortunately — partly addressable. If you can understand what the world’s best and brightest need from the job market, you can help motivate them to push through the political fog to pursue work in Britain, despite Brexit.

We recently conducted a mass, global survey of 10,000 researchers to learn what they consider most important when looking for a new job, with an emphasis on how they feel about mobility and international relocation. These data points offer striking insight into how HR and recruitment professionals in the UK can attract and source top talent in today’s geopolitical environment. Key factors likely to impact UK hiring managers in the near future include:

The talent exodus

While the UK’s departure from the EU is yet to be confirmed and future negotiations may alter its consequences, Brexit has already brought about visible changes to the British talent landscape. Since the 2016 referendum, almost 11,000 EU academics have left the country. For academic researchers in particular, funding provided by the EU-led Horizon 2020 programme is at risk, as the UK may no longer be able to participate post-Brexit. Moreover, the aftermath of the UK leaving the EU may involve changes to the movement policy. Businesses may find that inter-office movement — say, transferring from the London branch of the company to the Berlin office — may not be as simple as before.

Contributing to the talent exodus is the well-known “Brain Drain” phenomenon, where skilled workers seek better professional options abroad. With science in particular, international collaboration and the success associated with diverse teams means researchers often find exciting job opportunities in other countries. Our recent report found that 54% of UK scientists would be open to relocating abroad for the right role, with North America, and the Western, Central, and Northern areas of Europe ranking as the most popular overseas destinations.

UK companies can learn from this. They may not be recruiting scientists, but globalisation has made working and living abroad easier and more appealing than ever. This is true across a variety of sectors and regions. For example, 75% of British tech workers would be willing to leave the UK for work, despite London’s status as a global technology capital. Similarly, 66% of US employees would move abroad for a better salary. 

The flip side

Despite the tumultuous political climate, the UK remains a global powerhouse, hosting many of the world’s leading organisations. This means its status as an appealing place to work isn’t going to be snuffed out anytime soon. The country still ranks among the top five countries for expats to work in, offering them professional development, healthy work-life balance, and great workplace culture.


It’s thus not surprising that the UK is also the third-most desired destination for scientists, according to our report. After all, the UK is still home to institutions at the forefront of scientific progress.


As for international workers, Brexit could potentially make it trickier for them to start a new professional chapter in the UK. However, global scientific researchers don’t show signs of discouragement: when asked what factor was most significant in deciding where to apply for their next job, only 7% mention the ease of obtaining a visa, while as little as 5% choose relocation support when asked the same question. It’s clear that dedicated and ambitious workers are willing to face a few logistical challenges for a great job opportunity.


To hire outstanding staff and ensure success, UK organisations should cast the net as wide as possible to reach candidates from all over. The perfect addition to their team could be based on the other side of the world, just waiting to find the perfect job opportunity in the UK.


What really matters


So if relocation and visas don’t rank high among job applicants, what does?


According to our research, for both UK and international scientists, the opportunity to work in their unique area of interest is the single most important on-the-job factor when deciding where to apply. Naturally, passionate professionals want to enhance their experience in their own field and put their specialised skills to good use — and future employers should share the same vision. 


Whether a UK organization is looking to hire local or international talent, it is crucial the job ad is tailored to the applicants they want to attract, promising potential candidates growth opportunities and, in general, getting them excited about the role. Furthermore, digital storytelling that showcases employees’ working lives is an important part of building your employer brand.


When it comes to practical factors, the views of UK and international workers differ slightly. For UK respondents, location ranked as the most significant factor — we noted above how most British scientists, although open to relocation, mentioned their own country as one of the regions where they’d prefer to work. On the other hand, looking at global answers, salary stands out as the most important factor for researchers when job hunting. Both British and international respondents also indicated employee benefits as elements worth considering. While academic institutions in particular often have little freedom to increase salaries to appeal to more ambitious applicants, and employee benefit policies can be hard to reform, pay and perks should feature early on in the recruitment conversation in order to spark the candidate’s interest from the get-go.


As the current news agenda is permeated with negative forecasts for Brexit, employee burnout, and economic instability, it’s not easy to feel hopeful about the future of recruitment. However, UK organisations must keep a clear head and follow these simple tips: reach out to candidates beyond geographic boundaries through employer branding efforts and direct sourcing, start an early dialogue about pay and perks, and showcase the opportunity to do exciting, specialised work with compelling job ads.

Author: Editorial Team

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