Almost half of CIOs and their organisations are actively seeking to recruit technology talent from the EU to support their businesses and tackle the IT skills shortage, according to figures revealed in the 2017 CIO 100.

Some 42% of CIOs responded they were looking to the EU to recruit skilled IT and technology workers, with 72% of CIO 100 organisations saying their IT departments comprised of teams which included staff from EU member countries. CIOs in the UK reported a skills shortage in the CIO 100, and that they were planning to increase headcount to drive transformation but were struggling to recruit the necessary talent.

Ahead of the UK's June 8 General Election, the EU's Chief Negotiator for Brexit Michel Barnier has stated the rights of EU citizens in the UK are his top priority in negotiations over the terms of the UK's withdrawal from the EU - along with payments and the border with Ireland - before any further discussions can proceed.

In April 2015 a month before that year's election, 47% of organisations in the 2015 CIO 100 said that they were actively looking to the Europe to fill the skills gap. Among those included British 'megabrand' institutions British Gas, Jaguar Land Rover, the Royal Mail, Paul Smith, The National Trust, the Financial Times, The Economist, AstraZeneca, Foster and Partners, and JCB - whose chairman Lord Bamford was a prominent Vote Leave donor. Some 66% responded in 2015 that their IT teams included skilled Europeans.

Risk to UK economy

TechUK President Jacqueline de Rojas said that the next government must address the chronic shortage of digital skills and formulate a smart migration system or risk the UK economy.

"Finding and retaining talent is increasingly important for UK businesses, and this is particularly prevalent in the tech sector, which faces a 'triple hit' on its ability to recruit and retain talent," she said. "The UK's domestic digital skills pipeline struggles to meet growing demand, there is significant uncertainty on access to European Union talent, and new restrictions to hiring non-European Economic Area (EEA) workers from April 2017.

"Alongside building a robust domestic digital skills pipeline, the next Government must recognise the need for a smart migration system so the tech sector can continue to attract and retain the best international talent. Put simply, in order to remain a global hub for tech, the UK must be a global hub for tech talent."

Last week US job board Hired reported the rate at which foreign tech workers accept UK roles has decreased by nearly 20% since the Brexit vote, that 70% of UK tech workers have considered leaving the UK, and that the recruitment of foreign workers by UK firms in the tech sector has dropped by 30% since the beginning of 2016.

CIO concerns

CIO 100 members noted negotiations around free movement of people and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK could have a significant impact on their organisations and were watching events closely.

Chief Product and Information Officer at the Financial Times, Cait O'Riordan, said that one of the media company's Brexit concerns was its "ability to recruit and retain talent, particularly within the tech sector".

Eddie Stobart CIO John Court was optimistic that the haulage company was equipped to face challenges, but noted the "availability of skills and labour" was an area which could have a negative impact on the whole industry.

Trainline CTO Mark Holt said that half of the rail ticket retailer's tech staff are from outside the UK. "We have reassured all our staff that we will do whatever is necessary to ensure they can continue to work in the UK," he said.