In Matt Southall's latest column for the Western Mail, he urges post-Brexit policymakers to focus on ‘key workers’ rather than arbitrary skill-levels or salary-levels.
As one often is at this time of year, I’ve been in a reflective mood lately and have been reading back through some of my old columns. It was around about this time in 2016 that I spoke of the uncertainty around Brexit and the fact that it would have a serious, long-term impact on our economy - and two years on it’s disappointing to note, that across Welsh and UK businesses, we’re still no more positive about the impact Brexit will have on jobseekers, employers, productivity and the economy as a whole.
I’ve never shied away from that fact that I believe Brexit is already and will be bad news for the economy; for jobs and employers, but regardless of what shape it comes in and if / what deal is finally in place, one thing is abundantly clear - things will change this year.
All sides of the Brexit fence will have to work together to get Wales (and the UK) out into the world of business in the most economically fit and positive way. We have to work as ‘Team Wales’ to support, champion and promote ourselves as a country with the right entrepreneurial spirit and an unfailing and welcoming, can-do attitude, regardless of how things start to unfold.
At Acorn we’ve been doing what we can to ensure we’re in the best position to support our jobseekers and the companies we work with. Our Acorn Global brand has been extending its reach across Australia and in Ireland, and is supporting our UK-based clients through the superb relationship with leading European recruiter Synergie and its prolific European network. If there’s a way in the post-brexit world to still work seamlessly and positively with partners across Europe and elsewhere internationally then we’re doing all we can to maximise it.
But make no bones about it, any post-Brexit policy that determines which workers will be permitted to the UK based on salary or perceived skill levels is grossly inappropriate. This approach will have a serious impact on growth and productivity for individual businesses and the economy as a whole. Instead, the authorities need to concentrate on 'key workers’ required, and not segment people by arbitrary skill-levels or salary levels. And we must do what we can to ensure people across the world feel that they will be welcomed and valued here in the UK.
We are also looking forward once again to our involvement with the excellent Wales Week in London initiative, 23rd February to 9th March, of which Acorn is a founding partner. We see this initiative as a great example of the Team Wales approach – and no less because this year we learn that it has also started to develop Wales Weeks internationally by working closely with Welsh societies and communities based around the world.
In 2019 we are looking forward to possibly seeing Wales Week in New York, in Los Angeles, in New England, in Paris, in Germany, in New Mexico, in Ottawa, and closer to home, possibly in Sheffield, in Newcastle, Chelmsford and other locations.
To further emphasise the ‘Team Wales’ efforts, Wales Week works very closely with both the UK and Welsh Governments, working collaboratively to promote a modern Wales in London and worldwide – and is further supported by a host of sponsors and event organisers, who together ensure that we in Wales are putting our best foot forward to existing and new external audiences.
As I see it, with the onset of continued uncertainty we simply cannot wait for others to take the initiative on our behalf, and when the UK is breaking ties with the EU, we need to do the opposite as a Welsh economy - we need to come together, work together and support one another, to weather whatever will come.
2019 will be a challenge, there’s no doubt. As a business, Acorn has already seen the effects of the referendum result, with employers across every sector and every region of Wales and the UK finding it increasingly difficult to find staff – including people across every skill level from unskilled to highly-skilled.
Therefore, this is my call to arms for Welsh businesses – let’s get together, let’s work together and let’s champion each other to make the best of what is to come. As Martyn Luther King Jnr once said: “There is power in unity and there is power in numbers.” We may not be great in numbers in Wales, but what we are is vocal and loyal, and we have the chance here to make ourselves heard.
So, Happy New Year, Blwyddyn Newydd Dda – here’s to a healthy, prosperous and collaborative 2019 for Wales and Welsh business - Brexit or no Brexit, deal or no deal!
Math Southall is Group Managing Director of leading recruiter Acorn Recruitment