Brexit Loses Some Pros and May Gain Some Cons in Labor Shortage

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Britain’s departure from the European Union might throw up job opportunities for an unlikely group of people: ex convicts.

As employers agonize over how Brexit will hit the labor market, discussions are taking place over the possibility of training offenders to join the workforce on release from prison, according to two people familiar with the talks. Another pool of potential talent is people leaving the military, they said, declining to be named because the talks are private.

The U.K. government called meetings in recent weeks as Brexit jeopardizes the already depleted number of workers needed to dig up roads and overhaul the country’s out-of-date broadband network. Internet providers, building contractors and training agencies were told that the Ministry of Justice could assist businesses with training offenders and the Ministry of Defence could help facilitate recruitment of former military personnel, the people said.

Just as it plans to tighten immigration rules, the U.K. is embarking on a flurry of major civil engineering projects, including connecting a majority of U.K. premises to fiber-optic broadband by 2025 as well as a third runway for its largest airport and new high-speed railways.

The latest migration figures, meanwhile, show workers from the rest of the EU are now already leaving the U.K. in droves. There were 61,000 fewer EU nationals working in the U.K. in the fourth quarter than a year earlier. Spain and Portugal, particularly, are a source of sought-after skilled telecom workers because their networks are years ahead of the U.K.’s.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said in a statement it was looking at ways to support companies to get the skills and labor they need to meet fiber-optic coverage and 5G network goals.

BT Group Plc’s network unit Openreach has been working closely with the government to prepare for any Brexit impact, Kevin Brady, its human resources director, said in a statement. He said the company was “open minded” about how it would meet its labor needs, adding that a fifth of its hires last year were ex-forces.

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