Brexit Fallout: Are Working Parents the Answer to Our Skills Gap in the UK?

The NHS, the hospitality sector, farming, and the construction industries (all of which rely on workers from the EU) are facing a potential staffing catastrophe after Brexit. It’s not just industries relying on low-skilled workers feeling the pinch. Over all, nine out of ten UK employers are struggling to find skilled workers as a direct result of Brexit. Recent figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) say there were 86,000 fewer EU nationals in jobs in the UK in the quarter between April to June 2018 than there were at the same time last year.

This is the largest fall on record…

Working parents in the UK

In addition, a new study reveals that half of UK employers say Brexit will worsen the skills gap. And just under a quarter of businesses believe the UK is not prepared to compete on the global stage due to this skills gap. According to a survey of 1,355 employers carried out by the online jobs board, Totaljobs: half of employers say the shortage will be felt most at mid-management level. Attracting and retaining the best talent is at the forefront of the skills gap debate. It brings into question how businesses recruit, and how they train and add skill to their workforce.

Yes, businesses can widen their recruitment criteria, and hire people from different industries with similar transferable skills. And, of course, businesses should be looking to universities, colleges and educational establishments to shape the next generation of the workforce. However, as employers scratch their heads and look outside of their business for the answers, should they be considering that part of the solution can come from within?

The facts about working parents

According to figures produced by ONS, there are 4.9 million working mothers in England, which means 73.7 per cent of all mothers are in work of some form. The most common way that families organise their economic activity is with the father in full-time work and the mother in part-time work. This is representative of 1.8 million families. Most parents make changes to their employment to accommodate family responsibilities. They change jobs, reduce working hours, or choose a different pattern of work. Many parents downgrade their responsibilities at work to fit into part-time roles or choose jobs with more flexibility.

The charity, Working Families, has spotted a trend in younger parents trying to re-balance work and family life after Brexit. One in five parents stall their careers, and one in ten refuse a new job or turn down promotions. Working parents are now considering leaving their current employer to seek better work/life balance. Working parents are a huge untapped resource, with many skills under-utilised. So, how can businesses hang on to working parents and make more of the skills they have to offer?

Offer flexibility

If businesses are serious about tackling the skills gap, especially by engaging more with the under-utilised skills of many working parents, they will need to create a family-friendly work culture based around flexibility. Managing work and raising a family is a delicate balancing act. Businesses should offer flexible work, but at the same time ensure those who want more flexibly aren’t left feeling obliged to work longer hours. Flexible working policies alone are not enough to support parents.

Work/life balance isn’t just an issue for working parents. Nine out of ten of the UK’s workforce either already work flexibly, or would like to do so, according to the largest ever study of the UK workforce.

Offer training

Upskilling employees can improve retention rates. Training or upskilling staff can cost a lot, but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. The Government announced last autumn that they will be investing £30 million into the development of digital distance learning courses.

Working parent in the UK

Create a family-friendly culture

It’s increasingly recognized that culture plays a significant role in business success. For working parents, a family-friendly work culture is crucial. Business leaders need to work harder to understand the challenges facing parents at work if they are serious about retaining employees with children.

The Modern Families Index 2018 produced by Working Families charity and Bright Horizons suggest employers begin by exploring why parents in their workplace may feel work/life balance isn’t aligned with the culture of the organization. Understanding is key to driving cultural change. Creating a culture where employees do not feel pressured to work longer hours is imperative. Overworking is hugely detrimental to work/life balance for working families. Instead business should be offering training and support to review workloads and assess work organization.

Companies should be encouraging uptake of flexible work hours, so they can support parents in managing work and family life effectively. Line managers should also be invested in supporting parents and part-time workers. Businesses need to be clear on parental rights at work, and ensure family-friendly working is accessible.

Government support crucial

Successive governments have recognised the need for the rights of parents in the workplace to be formalised and strengthened through legislation. Shared parental leave, parental leave and the legal right to flexible working are all policies supporting the rights of parents in the workplace.


We’re facing uncertain times following the result of the EU referendum (Brexit). In a period of potential turbulence, businesses need to refocus, to ensure they can continue to recruit and retain the talent required to grow. Recognizing the role part-time workers and parents can play in filling the skills gap will play a crucial part in fixing the problem.