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Could Brexit see design offshored – for good?

Manufacturing offshoring became almost fashionable a decade or so ago as companies looked to cut overheads. But many found that offshoring wasn’t as effective as they anticipated, particularly for those developing low volume, high cost products. Many of those companies who offshored have now brought their manufacturing back closer to home.

Could a similar trend be happening in the design side, driven by Brexit?

Part of the thinking behind Brexit is for the UK to regain control over immigration. How that will happen has yet to be outlined in any detail, but initial whispers talk about a visa based system. How many visas, what restrictions there may be and, importantly, what cost might be involved are open to speculation.

In its first Technology Summit, TechWorks – the recently established ‘deep tech’ organisation – addressed ‘Does Brexit mean Techxit?’. Two panel discussions were held, considering business issues, as well as skills and R&D. No surprise to find opinion ranged from ‘it’s a con’ to ‘it’ll all be fine’.

It has been accepted for some years that the UK’s electronics industry is dependent upon engineers recruited from overseas. Mindful of this, industry associations – including NMI – have been lobbying government to avoid any restrictions on recruitment. So far, those pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Brexit has created the impression amongst some people that barriers are being erected and that anti foreigner sentiment is rife. It has also affected the exchange rate, making employment in the UK less attractive financially. If that results in the engineers needed by UK industry not coming here, will UK industry then have to start offshoring design? Manufacturing went, but largely came back; would design ever return?

Graham Pitcher

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