The world is changing at a pace faster than ever and the COVID-19 pandemic is propelling this. For those of us living outside the UK but wanting to travel to the UK, the world is about to change even more. This article is an opinion article based on observations and how the future may develop, especially from the perspective of international vets interested in creating a career in the UK.
How vets were working before COVID-19
There are three main ways of working as a clinical vet in the UK. Full-time employment, part-time employment and locum work (self-employment). Interestingly, a large proportion of vets in the UK are self-employed as locums. This has several benefits, with a slightly higher pay and more freedom. It is possible that about half of the locum vets or even more are not originally from the UK. However, despite the perks, locum vets must find their own jobs. These jobs are often short term jobs and may not be recurring. However, in the pre-COVID market, this was not a problem, as there was a shortage of vets.
What COVID-19 did…
Without spending much time focusing on all of the health implications of COVID-19, the pandemic brought a lot of changes to veterinary practices both on the way that they work and who they work with. Practices started to see emergencies only and doing telemedicine appointments, reducing their income. This led to the furlough of staff members, and while most of the furloughed staff is not the veterinary staff, vets were also affected. A furloughed vet is still an employee of the practice, but not actively working.
For locums, this also meant that several of their contracts were cancelled, as the practices started to have less work and, therefore, no need for an extra vet. This has pushed some locums into desperately looking for jobs and starting to look at full-time and part-time opportunities.
The veterinary recruitment market in the UK was such that there were a lot more jobs available than vets to fill them up. This meant a surplus of offers, with practices willing to pay to hire a vet. However, with COVID-19, many practices took a step back on recruitment and stopped searching for a vet. Right now, they don’t need more vets, as they don’t have work for them. While there are always practices advertising and recruiting, the investment has declined during the pandemic. Before COVID-19, the main two job ad platforms had both over 100 vacancies at any given time. A few months into the pandemic, this has dropped to 60-70 vacancies, most from recruitment agencies and corporates.
Before COVID-19, there was a shortage of vets in clinical practice. COVID-19 reduced the need for vets, balancing this out. But the perception is that there are still a few more vets than jobs available and the market isn’t saturated.
Then, in the Summer, the UK graduates finish University. The most eager start working fairly soon and are ready for action by September. While many already have jobs, others were possibly planning on travelling before starting to work. Something they may no longer be able to do. So there is the possibility that the addition of this batch of graduates will end up saturating the market, depending on how the pandemic evolves.
The market is not static
Change, change, change. The word of the moment. The veterinary market has been in an unbalanced state, with jobs in excess of vets, to the point that BVA successfully managed to get vets in the Shortage Occupation List. But COVID-19 balanced this out by creating less business. Now, the locum jobs are no longer stable jobs and many of these vets are looking for certainty. The UK graduates may encounter a market that is now more unforgiving. And what about us?
Impact for overseas vets
Before COVID-19, a non UK-trained vet was able to find a clinical job in the UK without clinical experience and without living in the UK. They could do this in several ways, such as joining a new graduate programme or finding smaller clinics in remote locations. This is no longer a reality in the near future because of the current market trends. Clinics have less needs and more choice. They are probably less likely to use recruitment agencies. They probably have locums applying for part-time and full-time jobs, who they may already know from working with in the past. They have UK graduates that have not been able to take time off for travelling or have not been able to find a job. Why would they look at inexperienced overseas vets that struggle with skills, communication, the culture and are abroad?
This is the thing – they no longer have to! Before COVID-19, they didn’t have a choice – you may have been the only one applying for that job! This is unlikely to happen again in the close future. The new graduate programmes will fill their spots with UK graduates that want to secure their first supportive job. The smaller clinics will have their locums looking for a permanent contract. The remote locations will suddenly become attractive for those that really need a job.
So, in a few words, inexperienced overseas graduates are going to struggle much more than they did for the last 5 years to be able to find a clinical job in the UK. You are entering a market that doesn’t necessarily need you. You don’t have room for errors.
How to turn the tables
Just because the market changed, it doesn’t mean you did. You still want to work in the UK. Actually, maybe now you really need to… maybe COVID-19 did the same to the veterinary market in your own country, now you’re even more underpaid and overworked or, worse, unemployed. So you have a few options:
- You give up the idea. That’s probably not what you really want to do…
- You try to wing it. That’s probably going to result in you giving up because you will likely fail (although you may be one of the few ones that nail it out of luck)
- You try to find a job in slaughterhouses in the UK. Likely to get it, unlikely to like it (if you want clinical practice, of course)
- You set yourself up to compete with other clinicians and get a job in the area that you want to develop your career in
Of course, for most vets interested in clinical practice, number 4 is the desirable option. It can be done, but the rules are now also different from before. Before, nailing your job application would bring you to the UK. If you had a good application, you could get interviews. You didn’t need a lot of experience to have a good application if you knew the rules of the game. This is no longer the case. You now need to upskill yourself in order to be a desirable candidate and create a good job application.
Upskilling yourself is now a necessary step if you want to compete in the UK market. It’s no longer a luxury, it’s something you have to do if you want a real chance of success.
This topic is so important that I will dedicate the next article to it.