Thursday, 5 July 2018

SEBrexit18 - HR's Brexit Questions

I’m at Symposium’s Brexit and HR conference today. This is nearly really good timing as we’re approaching the crunch point in October when we have to agree the way forward with the EU, and the UK cabinet are meeting at Chequers tomorrow to agree our pitch for that.

However, I think the day after the Chequers meeting would have been even better (obviously everyone had hoped there would have been a bit more clarity by now). As it is, we’ve got lots of questions, and quite a bit of criticism, but few answers.

Tim Thomas, Director of Employment and Skills Policy at EEF, took us through various questions including:
  • What does this mean for worker mobility, UK to EU and EU to UK
  • What may be the impact on workforce planning and skills
  • How can we continue to attract EU workers
  • What is your wider business planning around Brexit
  • What are the legal implications for teak outside the EU.

And there’s also the additional, and for me, more important, question about developing the UK workforce to make up for falling numbers of EU workers but dealing with this will be long-term and difficult as we’re already close to reaching full employment. (Of course that doesn’t reflect the 40% of jobs some people think are going to be lost due to AI etc.)

Mark Stewart General Manager and HR Director at Airbus added to his company’s public criticism.

The clock is ticking and we still have no further clarity about what is going to happen so how do you run a business, especially a long-term one? Airbus in particular have integrated supply chains with 10,000 parts being shipped across EU, often crossing the channel two or three times. And they also have UK nationals in the EU and vice versa, as well as 80,000 people movements between EU and UK.

For him, Brexit provides a shocking and damning inditement of where we find ourselves as a country and of how not to do business. Customers are looking and laughing at us, and wondering what we are doing.

Key questions for him include what does Brexit mean for:
  • UK access and influence to the regulatory regime operation by the European Aviation Safety Agency
  • Continued access to the EU single market and any proposed new customs arrangement
  • Continued UK access to and influence in the collaborative R&D / Space programmes being run and funded by the EU
  • Access to skilled labour and continued free movement of labour
  • An agreed phase of transition.

Airbus is trying to engage their staff but this is difficult as there is nothing positive to say. However the next phase of their Brexit engagement plan is beginning tomorrow including a survey of employees who are being directly affected.

This is all true and Airbus' criticism is quite understandable. I don't think Boris Johnson's 'F*** Brexit' remark was an appropriate response to Airbus' comments. However, I do think business needs to understand Brexit is about the UK's people expressing what they want, rather than creating an easy environment for business.

Trust in business is still at quite a low point and so therefore is the belief that doing things for business will benefit the population. If Airbus had avoided paying bribes - sorry, that should say making unaccounted for payments - of £100 million Euros to sell Eurowings fighters, things may have been a bit different.

Actually, that's unfair. I don't mean to single out Airbus, and I appreciate them coming and speaking to us today. The point is a broader one. If many major firms had avoided all the major scandals they've been involved in, then people, including cabinet ministers, might have been more interested in listening to their case. 

So at least part of the answer for how business needs to respond to Brexit, as well as how business becomes more trusted in what it needs regarding Brexit, and how it progresses post Brexit, all boil down to the same thing - for businesses to become more responsive to people (including through the type of engagement planning Airbus is doing) and the societies they operate within.

Actually, that point sort of applies to the EU too.

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  • jon [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com


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