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Comment: Brexit brain drain driving EU demand for UK talent says Simon Horseman of Straco Group

With over 3m people working in UK retail, we are in an industry that is the largest private sector employer in the UK. From shopping in-store to ordering from your mobile on the go, we are always shopping. It’s no wonder that London was announced just last week as the most popular European city amongst global retailers.

In my 20 years of recruiting, the retail design world has never been quite as diverse or as fast-moving as it is today, and as we look set to exit the EU there is level of uncertainty for business owners as to how government changes may affect their prospects. In terms of recruitment, whilst finding the right talent can often pose a challenge for business owners and internal HR teams, the retail design industry is now posed with a new recruitment challenge as we leave the EU: a decreasing pool of talent.

We have built long-lasting relationships over the years with candidates; we’ve seen people start their careers in retail design and we’ve seen them reach the top of their game in senior management or managing director positions. As we look to find the right talent for our clients, we have begun to see more recently a common theme when speaking to candidates: that they will soon be leaving the UK amidst fears of not being able to stay here.

After the UK voted to leave the EU, more than 100,000 EU citizens left Britain in the first three months.  With 3.3m predicted to leave in total, the talent pool for all sectors, including retail design, is fast decreasing. Not to mention the number of UK citizens that are also setting their sights on leaving the country by spreading their wings to set up a new life abroad.

Talent pools are often like a scale, with a see-saw effect. What goes up often comes down. But these concerns can, post-Brexit, create a new opportunity for the retail design industry and Straco is already seeing a greater need from clients to help find talent in France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.

With the high number of EU citizens set to leave Britain, it may on first glance seem that finding candidates in the EU will be easier; but the talent pool is still a big pond with small fishes that are hard to catch. 

With Sterling devalued, there’s now an opportunity for retail design agencies already located in Europe to cut their recruitment fees post Brexit; which will in turn improve their bottom lines.

Our own market research shows that local EU recruiters not only work on fees sometimes double those of UK rivals, but that clients are expected to pay 30% upfront, 30% upon receiving a CV and the remainder upon candidate start date. 

So what could be a concern initially also presents a golden opportunity for the world of retail design to find talent pan-European in a cost-effective manner. 

Simon Horseman is managing director of Straco Group

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