2016 has been a seminal year in European economic and political circles, with one of the continent’s powerhouses voting to leave the economic club that is the EU and create a new dynamic within Europe and indeed the wider world.

Whilst the premise for the vote and the campaigning that surrounded the vote has been questioned, the reality is that by the end of March 2017 the UK will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and commence the two year exit process. Indeed, it is true to say that irrespective of the Brexit process and the associated timeline, Britain’s relationship with Europe and the wider world has altered forever.

In the days and weeks following the Brexit Referendum vote, there was a significant increase in the number of applicants contacting us from the UK. The demographic was wide and varied but in most cases contact was from people who had moved to the UK for opportunity and who now see it as having taken an inward step, away from the connected world we have become. Whether time shows that to be the case or not, there is no doubt that many within the migrant communities in the UK, including first generation Irish, are looking at alternatives and Ireland presents itself as a viable destination, being English speaking and with the prized option of free movement to EU citizens.

Within corporate Ireland, amongst multinational and indigenous companies, all sectors are watching and waiting for the next stage.

Recent missives from a variety of industry sectors from food through to financial services have offered insight to both the potential challenges and opportunities that may result from Brexit. Of course, we face uncertainty and challenge, especially as an open economy with a large export market into the UK.

Recruiting within the food sector has given me an insight into the challenges that are facing Irish export businesses at present. Brexit has had the immediate effect of causing currency fluctuation between sterling and the Euro, which has caused a great degree of concern for food exporters selling to the UK, as one of Ireland’s major markets. I have seen at first hand the immediate change that Brexit has wrought. A highly experienced food professional who made contact recently explained that, due to Brexit and the currency fluctuation, his company, whose business is 90% dependant on the UK market, had lost significant orders and margin and as a result he had been made redundant due to a restructure.  Indeed, the issue of Brexit and the effects on exports to the UK has formed a significant part of discussions with a number of my clients, especially within the SME sector. Many of these businesses have significant private label business with major UK retailers and the fallout from Brexit is certainly impacting on them. The UK is Ireland’s biggest export market and the changing landscape is causing much concern, as we try to plan contingent economic measures to safeguard our recovery and long term future.

Recently, the Food and Drink Industry Ireland (FDII) Industry body warned that pressure was coming to bear and will continue on the food producers as a result of Brexit and that this will manifest itself in job losses and company closures. The agri food sector is one of Ireland’s major commercial pistons, with indigenous food producers continuing to develop and grow their international markets and market share. They are key to the long term sustainable development of the Irish economy and have been leading innovators within the global food sector, especially over the last decade. It is imperative that Government assist and continue to support home grown business across the agri food sector. Ireland is a limited but important consumer market, but the UK and international markets represent opportunity and challenge on a global scale. The Government and industry need to be aligned to meet the challenges ahead. Brexit has created economic and social uncertainty and Ireland Inc. needs to have a coherent plan in place across industry to deal with whatever challenges lie ahead.

The Irish Government and the business community must be strategic and think long term about how Ireland can best benefit from Brexit. It would be naïve to think that once Brexit happens, all business will migrate out of the UK and take residence in Ireland. The UK Government does have strong leverage in working out the best deal for itself in terms of negotiating the terms of the exit and how to create the “softest” economic landing for all, both within and without the EU.

Whilst there is little doubt that Europe’s most popular location for jobseekers has just got a lot less popular, there is significant work to be done by Ireland Inc. to position us to benefit both with the influx of business and jobs as well as protecting our exporters. That’s a positive starting point for Irish employers.

If you’re looking for talent, or worried about losing talent to the UK, Brexit seems like manna from heaven. However, as corporates harbour the same concerns about the UK’s future as their staffs do, some will look to set up a bridgehead within the EU here in Ireland, thus draining the talent pool somewhat.

We’re seeing a slowdown in hiring among some UK firms and this will continue. We may also see a more flexible approach to hiring, with a shift towards temporary staff reflecting a reticence to invest fully in human capital at this uncertain time. If employers in Ireland are bolder in offering permanency, this will make working in the UK less attractive again.

With migration to the UK  sure to significantly decline  at some point – perhaps brought on as much by personal fear as official restrictions – Ireland will become a more popular destination for workers from Eastern Europe and elsewhere. That cohort filled 153,000 jobs in Britain last year alone. Expect sectors such as healthcare, hospitality, construction and manufacturing to benefit.

Recruiters here are already rushing to tap the new opportunity which Brexit presents. Make sure you are working with one, for this may be a uniquely fruitful time to go fishing for talent, especially talent which has proven elusive. It may be a time of uncertainty, but one that calls for decisiveness across business and government within Ireland, as our competitive advantage may be on the line!

 Declan McGrath is Food, Pharmaceutical and Engineering Manager with Eden Recruitment