With a Brexit deal now negotiated, Britain must turn its attention to raising its game at competing for global talent, says Ivan Jimenez, Managing Director of bizkaia:talent.

Global demand for skilled labour is at an all-time high. The rise of new technologies and the increased flexibility and mobility of workers is sparking competition and making recruitment and the retention of talent a growing challenge for governments and employers.

A recent survey by Deloitte showed this, with 81 per cent of its global industry respondents identifying hiring pressures and skill shortages as barriers to growth and development – and more still indicating that competition, and the costs of human capital will increase going forward. In Europe, this reality is already beginning to show, and by the 2030s could reach a crisis point for economies where working-age professionals are in decline. This is set to impact countries such as Spain, Greece and Portugal more than most, due to their economic struggles and loss of talent during the 2008-2014 downturn and will require forward-thinking policy and innovative programmes to combat the threat and stave off decline.

It’s also a challenge for us here in the Basque Country, where over the next couple of decades vital talent will retire from the labour market. Like our southern European counterparts, during the 2008 economic crisis we experienced heavy losses to our domestic workforce with our region proving a rich source of talent for German, France and UK businesses due to our strong industrial history and our being one of Europe’s leading producers of STEM graduates. Over 10,000 skilled professionals left our region between 2008 and 2014, according to figures from the Consejo de Juventud de Euskadi, and, in their doing so, they put intense pressure on business leaders and government to not just stem the exodus and its effects on our society – one of the oldest in Europe – but also to improve their offer to young people.

In Biscay, a territory in the east of the Basque region, where over 58,000 businesses are situated, the provincial government was quick to identify and cauterise the wound. In 2008, as part of a package of efforts, it began investing heavily in education; improving links between schools and businesses; laying foundations for enterprise and ‘start-ups’; and giving its support to the launch of a series of industry-backed initiatives to bring back talent, such as the ‘Be Basque Talent Network’.

This Talent Network, which is a public-private initiative run by bizkaia:talent, is now 11 years old and has a Europe-wide reach. Its raison d’être is simple: creating an environment that appeals to skilled workers, so that our industrial centres in Bilbao and the wider region can continue to compete and thrive. As a broad initiative, it’s now the largest of its kind, with over 10,000 members across Europe – with the Network providing a ‘micro-targeting’ approach on behalf of Basque industry by holding one-to-one meetings, recruitment events in major European cities, and ‘integration’ support services for prospective hires. It’s a novel approach to recruitment that, together with other inititatives, is now bearing fruit to the extent that the Basque Country has now recovered from the 2008-2014 exodus, according to figures from Spain’s Nacional de Estadistica (INE).

But there’s more to do to sustain this progress. It’s for this reason that it’s important the Network is seen as a long-term project for the region. With the support of its public and private partners, Bizkaia Talent is now ramping up its efforts and taking its ‘Be Basque Talent Network’ to new cities – including Boston, New York and Washington DC – as well as returning each year to key targets, such as London. The UK is an important destination, given the high number of Spanish and Basque residents. In 2017, this figure stood at 156,000 with over 50,000 employed across the country’s academic, banking & finance, communications and transport sectors. This composition matches our needs. And this year, in St Paul’s, we had our most successful meeting yet, with over 150 professionals and 65 business leaders coming together to learn about the project and its regional development packages.

Pursuing public-private partnerships is something the UK should look at exploring more intensively as it looks set to embark on its future outside the EU. Even with its current economic strength, and strong Commonwealth ties, the UK will need to revise its approach to talent going forward – and be more proactive and engaged with the global labour market. It will need to develop a policy of inclusivity, which recognises the benefits of migration and finds a means of keeping hold of, and, where necessary, upskilling, its labour forces.

It cannot sit back and expect the world’s talent to come to its shores. As the world opens up and new economies emerge, competition is intensifying. The race for human capital is on – and ultimately this means employers, regions and countries will need to do more to nurture and integrate talent, and to provide a reason for it to stick around.

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