A view from Maisie McCabe

Brexit: it's a question of talent

The task of finding and retaining the best talent is a continual process.

Just when you think you’re set for the future, up will pop another business need or vacancy. And so with Rachel Barnes off to focus on her more personal relaunch, it falls on me to keep her spot warm here. 

As well as confirming that marketing leaders are pretty darn worried about the effect of leaving the European Union on short-term business confidence (see Gideon Spanier’s column), new Marketing Society research shows that 67% of executives fear Brexit would have a detrimental impact on the job market – with just 16% thinking it would be positive. The results of the survey were more evenly balanced on the subject of immigration – suggesting that the respondents take a different view on the impact of the EU on the less skilled end of the employment spectrum – but that’s an issue for another time.

The notion that leaving the EU would have a negative effect on the ability to recruit talented staff is a key point in this debate. Anecdotally, I hear that the part of the industry where talent from Europe can outclass and outnumber homegrown candidates most frequently is the digital realm. As an example, at Campaign’s owner, Haymarket, the development and analytics teams who worked so hard on our brilliant new site have a much higher proportion of members from Europe than other parts of the business.

Michael Magee, vice-president, marketing, at Mars Chocolate Europe and Eurasia, talks about the importance of developing teams in this week’s issue. But it’s difficult to build vast, diverse and trusted teams if the people applying do not have the requisite skills. Part of the problem here is undoubtedly the failure of our education system to help children create and manipulate as well as use computer programs. There has been a worthy effort to reverse this trend in recent years, but it’s going to take more than Google handing out Raspberry Pis to schools. Indeed, a start-up went so far as to say the devices were "gathering dust".

In the meantime, for agencies, marketers and media owners looking for people to help them improve their products and services, the EU provides a healthy pipeline of candidates. One that has no doubt contributed to the strong field of UK entries in Publicis Groupe’s start-up competition (page 23), as well as the retail innovations Shona Ghosh covered in these pages last week. 

Given that Brexiters can focus their argument on the strength of talent outside the EU, it is important to consider that the counter view can be true too. Whichever side of the debate you plan to give your cross to.