Brexit could spell bad news for small engineering firms

As the UK officially begins Brexit negotiations, a leading industry expert has warned that small and medium sized engineering firms could be hurt most by a likely fall in immigration.

“Skills supply is a particular issue for SMEs who do not have the international networks, or brand awareness, of larger companies,” Colin Brown, director of engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, told Professional Engineering. “They will find it particularly difficult to hire non-UK nationals if those candidates are unable to respond to their normal channels of recruitment, which tend to be local advertising.”

Research carried out by Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recently revealed that a quarter of the UK companies surveyed were concerned that a system that required EU migrants to have a job offer before moving would have a negative impact on them.

Of course, as yet it is still unclear exactly how immigration to the UK will operate once Britain leaves the EU. An Australia-style points system seems to be the favoured option of many, and it is this choice that could cause problems as it would likely require newcomers to have a job in the UK before they could move there.

According to Brown, such a move would not necessarily bring in workers with the required skill set that small companies often need. “SMEs will struggle with any points system that requires people to be specifically highly skilled to gain enough credit,” he continued. “With fewer employees overall, they often rely on those with a wider range of skills, to cover a wider range of tasks. These can do well when they are developed in house specific to their needs. Put simply, they can neither afford nor absorb the technical superstars who would do well under a points system.”

Around 23 per cent of companies in the manufacturing and production industry believed they would be adversely affected by stricter immigration changes, although 58 per cent felt that they would suffer no adverse effect.

Article published 20th June 2017