Is your workforce strategy prepared for Brexit? Lessons from the construction and health sectors

28 January 2019

Is your workforce strategy prepared for Brexit? Lessons from the construction and health sectors

In a tumultuous week for Brexit politics we saw the biggest government defeat in history, with Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement falling 230 votes short in the Commons. This was rapidly followed by a vote of no confidence… that the government subsequently won. These are strange times indeed.

Whilst it’s very easy to get drawn in to the soap opera taking place at Westminster, it’s also too easy to forget that this is real. Millions of workers, and thousands of businesses and public services are having to get on with the day job as well as continue to look forward and plan for the future.

Nowhere is this more challenging than in workforce planning. For over 40 years, UK employers in the public and private sectors have been able to look the wider pool of over 500 million EU citizens to fill staff and skills shortages, to help with expansion, innovation or fluctuations in demand.

Construction and Health are two, seemingly disparate, sectors that are facing very similar workforce challenges, and with research and evaluation expertise from Traverse, they are addressing these from a position of strength, informed by robust information and insight through analysis.

Traverse’s work in this field since the referendum of 23rd June 2016 has been increasingly focused on issues relating to ensuring a ready supply of skilled workers through the evaluation of innovative training and workforce development programmes.

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) published a detailed report in in 2017[1] that for the first time examined the numbers and range of skills of migrant workers in construction, and, significantly their relative importance to the sector. The report shows that while the British construction workforce is still largely home-grown, migrants play a critical role, particularly in the South East and London, where they make up half the workforce.

According to CITB over 120,000 construction workers are from EU countries and tend to be much younger than their UK-born colleagues (25-35). This highlights a further workforce challenge – an aging workforce.

Traverse is working with CITB, employers and training organisations to understand better how vocational programmes can help support industry needs and provide sustainable career options for a wide range of people. For example, we have examined programmes designed to broaden the appeal of construction as a career to younger people and groups that have traditionally not seen construction as a viable option. The learning from this is helping shape future programmes, build trust from employers and influence policy.

One of the key campaign topics of the 2016 EU Referendum was the NHS. Like construction, the health service has developed strong links with the EU as a recruitment pool for staff at all levels, from ancillary workers to the most specialised of consultants.

The EU’s policies of freedom of movement and mutual recognition of professional qualifications mean that it has been relatively straightforward for the health sector to recruit from EU countries. This includes 55,000 of the NHS’s 1.3 million workforce and 80,000 of the 1.3 million workers in the adult social care sector[2].

It is widely acknowledged that the NHS is currently struggling to recruit and retain permanent staff – in 2014, there was a shortfall of 5.9 per cent (equating to around 50,000 full-time equivalents) between the number of staff that providers of health care services said they needed and the number in post, with particular gaps in nursing, midwifery and health visitors. [3]

Through a wide range of leading edge evaluation studies with organisations such as Health Education England and the Nursing and Midwifery Council, Traverse is supporting workforce development in the health sector.

We have been evaluating the potential for upskilling nurses to undertake endoscopies, freeing up time for consultants as well as providing new opportunities for nursing staff to progress and stay in the profession. Additionally, we have been examining the roll out of nursing associate training, proving opportunities for people to enter the health care sector and offering essential support to enable registered nurses to focus on more complex clinical duties.

The potential impact of Brexit is not the sole driver for innovation in workforce development certainly. An aging workforce and changing technology are arguably bigger factors, and these won’t go away regardless of what the UK’s future relationship with the EU looks like.

All sectors face these challenges, and at Traverse we are committed to applying our tools and expertise to help ensure that we can capture and measure the impact of leading edge work in workforce development, and that this can help the public and private sectors build more resilient and sustainable workforce strategies that provide exciting opportunities for recruitment and retention, as well as ensuring an excellent service for the people they serve.

 


[1] MIGRATION AND CONSTRUCTION: The view from employers, recruiters and non-UK workers. CITB, June 2017

[2] Health and Social Care Information Centre 2015; Skills for Care 2016

[3] National Audit Office, 2016.

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