We are all familiar with the story of the Three Little Pigs. They were sent out into the wide world by their mother and each of them knew that there was an issue in the neighbourhood that they needed to deal with: a wolf. All three of them knew that the solution to the threat was to build a house to keep them safe, and so they were on the lookout for materials with which to build one with.
But as we know, the first of them was foolish enough to build his house with straw, and he got eaten up. The second was foolish enough to build his house with sticks, and he too suffered the same fate. Yet the third was well prepared, and after building his house with bricks he not only dealt with the wolf, but also ended up with a nice strong place to live – which of course he lived in happily ever after.
Now you probably never imagined that the Three Little Pigs could be turned into an analogy for Brexit, but that’s exactly what we’re about to do. As is usually the case with such stories, it comes with a number of good lessons, and we can break them down into five constituent parts. By happy coincidence, those five parts correspond nicely with the situation currently faced by any organisation or institution involved in driving regional skills supply and economic growth:
- A change in circumstances
Leaving home / Leaving the European Union
- A potential threat to deal with
A wolf / Possible risks and threats to our region that might arise from leaving
- The need to take action for future security
Building a house / Ensuring that we are well placed to deal with upcoming challenges
- The need to evaluate materials
Evaluating which house-building materials to work with / Evaluating what we have to work with in our region
- Very different consequences
Getting eaten up or having a nice strong house / Regional decline or growth
In terms of where we are currently at, we might call it somewhere around Little Pig Stage 3. Our circumstances have unquestionably changed, and we are about to start the process of leaving the European Union. Although we cannot read the future, we are aware that there will be many issues and challenges that need to be dealt with. We know that doing nothing is not an option, but that we need to plan to build a secure future. However, given that we don’t know the nature of any negotiations, how can we prepare?
The answer is to pay close attention to Little Pig Stage 4. Essentially, what marked the Third Little Pig out from his siblings was that firstly, he fully understood his situation, secondly he properly assessed the risks and opportunities and lastly, he effectively evaluated the materials he was working with. So whilst his brothers bought their straw and sticks and thought they’d be fine, the Third Little Pig was fully prepared when the time came to build the house.
In the same way, any organisation or institution involved in things like skills supply and driving economic growth can apply the same principles of preparedness. Whilst you may not know the exact nature of the risk just yet, it is possible to assess your own regional situation, to look at what you’re working with, and so be prepared for when post-EU Britain begins to take shape. Here, briefly, are four points to consider:
Understand your starting point
Understanding your current situation is crucial when faced with any challenge, but it is especially true when facing a seismic change such as Brexit. Understanding your starting point means becoming better informed about the labour market in your regional economy as it currently is, which in turn will help you make more informed decisions about the future when things become clearer.
Evaluate your region’s strengths and weaknesses
Every region has strengths and weaknesses. Some regions will be strong in some sectors and weak in others. The same is true of skills, which are your region’s most valuable asset. Therefore, take steps to identify the sectors that are fundamental to your region, and the skills which are most important and perhaps even unique to your area.
Assess Your Risk
Having understood the baseline and the materials you are working with, you will be much better placed to assess potential risks. For instance, which parts of your regional economy are most tied to the Single Market and therefore could be most exposed if we end up outside of it? Another question to consider is how dependent the sectors and employers in your region are on migrant labour. Being able to answer this question will play a big part in your ability to determine whether your region is high or low risk when the issue of movement of labour becomes clearer.
Assess Your Opportunities
With every change in circumstance, there are always opportunities. What about the opportunities that might present themselves to your region outside the Single Market? The reality is that Britain hasn’t struck a bilateral trade deal for nearly half-a-century, but nor has the EU ever struck a deal with the world’s two largest economies – America and China. However, in the post-EU environment, such deals are now a distinct possibility. But whether this happens in the foreseeable future or not, even without such deals trade still goes on (for instance, though we don’t have a deal with the US, it is still our single biggest export destination, accounting for around 17% of the goods and services we sell abroad). Whatever happens, there will undoubtedly be opportunities for those regions what are savvy enough to prepare beforehand.
Like the tale of the Three Little Pigs, the tale of Brexit is the same: better to be prepared beforehand for whatever the future holds than to allow yourself to be taken by surprise.