Taking stock of Brexit at the REC Forum in Belfast

09 Dec 2016



What are the specific jobs market and post EU referendum challenges facing recruiters in Northern Ireland? How can our industry engage with the newly created Department for the Economy? These were the hot topics at this month’s NI Policy Forum in Belfast which brought together REC members from a wide-range of sectors, leading employer organisations and government officials.

Candidate shortages are the major challenge for recruiters and employers in NI

REC members working across a range of sectors including technology, industrial, healthcare, executive search, hospitality and financial services flagged candidate shortages as a key concern. Specific post-EU referendum challenges for REC members in NI include workers from other EU countries already choosing to take up opportunities over the border in the Republic of Ireland due to the significantly higher wages and post referendum uncertainty. This is making existing staff shortages more acute.

External participants from the leading employer organisation EEF NI and from the Northern Ireland Food & Drink Association (NIFDA) echoed these staffing concerns. NIFDA’s recent Brexit report estimates that 48% of full-time staff working in the food sector in NI are from other EU countries and that over 90% of peak-time contract labour is fulfilled by EU Nationals. A further NIFDA report estimates that 15,000 new positions will be created in the sector by 2020 which underlines the need for a pipeline of workers to fill these roles.

Driving good recruitment and reviewing immigration and skills policy are part of the solution

Since the EU referendum outcome, the REC’s core message is that future immigration policy must reflect the need to access staff for lower skilled as well as high skilled roles. We are committed to working with the Department for the Economy on their wide-ranging skills agenda – including raising awareness of the ‘Skills to Succeed’ campaign.

With candidate shortages set to intensify, employers and recruiters will need to work together to review current hiring procedures and boost the candidate experience. The REC’s Good Recruitment Campaign promotes this partnership approach. REC members in NI are also committed to driving the inclusion agenda through initiatives like Disability Confident.

Tax changes and the apprenticeship levy are the major external challenges

The particular concern in NI is that the apprenticeship levy funds will be swallowed into the general taxation and will not be available for training. The REC will provide practical support to REC members on implementing IR35 changes and the apprenticeship levy (once the government confirms specific plans for NI). Officials from the Department for the Economy have confirmed that the REC will be invited to feed into specific regulatory reviews in NI on zero-hour contracts, the Conduct Regulations and GLA enforcement and into the regional consultation process which will form a key part of the Mathew Taylor review into employment rights.

The Forum meeting was the first chaired by our new Regional Director for Northern Ireland, Donna Parker, from Diamond Group. The aim is to build on the work of her predecessor Tina McKenzie in amplifying our industry’s voice in NI and to drive member engagement in ongoing campaigning activities. This month’s gathering in Belfast was a great start and has paved the way for a high energy and high impact 2017 for the industry in Northern Ireland.

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