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14% of Life Sciences professionals to leave UK as Brexit looms

14% of life sciences professionals in the UK could be prompted to move overseas if Brexit brings a negative change in economic conditions.  This is according to research conducted by staffing firm Kelly Services amongst 1,400 life science workers across seven countries (UK, France, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands) which showed that the all EU survey average was just 5%.


Moreover, with non-UK nationals comprising 7% of the UK Life Sciences workforce 1, it is clear that UK nationals working within the industry would also consider a move abroad if the country faced another economic shock (following the devaluation of Sterling in the run up to the EU Referendum).


This should send alarm bells ringing to a UK government which claims to recognise the importance of the Biopharma and the Medical Devices markets, which generated £33.3bn and 17.8bn turnover, respectively, in 2017.


Additional figures from the UK and Ireland, published in Kelly’s Talent in Science report, also revealed:

-          The UK Life Sciences workforce is highly mobile: a higher than EU average proportion of workers in the UK have already relocated overseas for work (29% versus 25%)

o   Similarly, in Ireland, 28% (versus the 25% EU average) have already made an overseas move for work.

-          Of those that have never moved countries for work, 69% of Life Sciences workers in the UK and 70% in Ireland would consider doing so. 

o   Life science workers in Ireland would be more heavily influenced by a family decision to relocate than the average across the 7 countries, 32% versus 22% across the 7 EU countries and 19% in the UK.

-          The significant majority of Life Sciences workers are open to new opportunities: just 14% of UK Life Sciences workers, and 10% of their counterparts in Ireland, state that they never consider alternatives.

o   Very few are actively looking for a role, however, some candidates need to be nurtured into considering a move: just 17% of Life Sciences workers in the UK and 13% in Ireland are always looking out for a new opportunity.

Setting the willingness to relocate overseas in context of EU labour mobility there were 11m EU-28 movers of working age living in the EU-28 in 2016 of which 9.1m were actively employed or looking for work.  In addition, there were 1.4m cross-border commuters, bringing the total to 10.5m that either physically relocated or commuted across borders to work in that year.  Germany and the UK remained the main destination countries in 2016, hosting almost half of all movers. 


Commenting on the sentiments around mobility expressed in the research, Richard Bradley, MD for UK and Ireland at Kelly said: “Our country has long been recognised as a leader in life sciences where many of the top minds from the EU and around the world have sought to make their mark.  Then along came Brexit, a seismic political event that has shaken the industry to its core, creating uncertainty for businesses and workers.  And with the UK one of the lowest when it comes to the average, all-occupation salary at c.£27,000 (c.€30,500) compared to the two highest, €66,523 in Switzerland and €45,708 in Germany – and with negligible adjustments to salary, Kelly evidences, made following the devaluation of Sterling which commenced in the run up to the EU Referendum - it should be of no surprise that 14% of life science professionals in the UK will be looking to relocate if there is a further economic shock from Brexit.


“The continuing uncertainty of Brexit along with attractive salaries are two powerful draws.  The UK must do more to ensure it retains the best talent and I would appeal to the Government to make continuing access to the skills required by industries such as Life Sciences central to its Brexit debate at this critical time in our political history.  The wrong decision will have huge negative ramifications for the life science industry and the UK economy overall.”

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Last Updated: 11-Dec-2018