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Professional recruitment is booming

23rd Dec 2021
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But how long will it last?

As every HR professional will attest, 2021 has been a year of twists and turns. Twelve months ago, practitioners were tasked with managing both remote workers and physical cover for others who were isolating as the country lived under heavy restrictions. During this period, in many sectors, talent acquisition was far from front of mind. Fast forward a year, however, and demand for skills is booming – not least within the professional sectors.

Official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that open job vacancies across the UK economy reached 1.21 million for the quarter ending November 2021, representing an increase of 434,500 from its pre-pandemic level. This is even though UK employers added 257,000 staff to their payrolls in the last month.

Looking at the professional recruitment sectors specifically, vacancy numbers continue to climb. The latest Recruitment Trends Snapshot report from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), indicates that demand for permanent professionals has risen by 43% over the last 12 months – and 3% between October and November alone. Our data, provided by growth analytics experts, cube19, reveals that contract hiring is also up, reporting a 1% uptick month on month and an impressive 69% growth annually.

While it is unsurprising to see significant annual increases in hiring given the lockdown that was imposed at the end of 2020, the emergence of the new Covid variant last month and further restrictions being introduced ahead of the holiday season are understandably causing some concern. However, our data does show that vacancies increased in recent weeks, despite the on-going reports of Omicron cases spreading across the UK.

APSCo’s daily tracking data indicates that vacancies grew towards the end of November, with job posts up 6% across permanent and contract roles in the second half of the month when compared to the first two weeks. This suggests that hiring remained on an upward trajectory as December began.

Although it’s impossible to predict what will happen in the weeks ahead, the early signs suggest that the recruitment sector remains largely resilient for now. It is also worth noting that this comes at a time when hiring across white collar roles usually sees a seasonal lull as the holiday season approaches, which is indicative of the continued recruitment drive that the UK is experiencing as the economy recovers from the initial impact of the pandemic.  

What does threaten this buoyant recruitment market, though, is the continued shortage of skills being noted across the country. Ultimately, while this uptick in hiring activity appears positive at first glance, economic recovery in 2022 is at risk if appropriate action isn’t taken to address the skills shortages that talent acquisition professionals continue to contend with.

Over the past year, the Government has introduced a number of measures designed to upskill the UK workforce. However, most of these are designed with long-term objectives in mind. We need action sooner: there is an acute and immediate need for a legislative environment that supports agile and international recruitment activity.

APSCo has continuously called on the Government to ensure that the country has access to internationally highly skilled independent contractors to help fill the UK’s skills gap and that a post Brexit immigration route is needed that is both attractive and viable for non-UK independent contractors to support skills demand across the country.

We have also repeatedly urged the Government to address the underutilisation of the Apprenticeship Levy given the constraints of the scheme. Many of our largest recruitment members have enormous levy pots. These members typically employ a relatively small number of staff directly but maintain a very large payroll. However, huge sums of money will revert back to the Treasury if they are unable to spend it on upskilling their agency workers and independent contracting candidates. This is not permitted under the current rules, which make little sense at a time when the UK is so short of the skills it needs to thrive.  

Recruitment activity is currently booming, but the longevity of this upward trajectory is dependent on a number of crucial factors. With Covid cases once again increasing, there is a risk that the economy – and subsequent hiring activity - will be knocked by further restrictions in the New Year. However, while decision makers can only attempt to control the virus, they have true autonomy over the policies and legislation which directly impacts access to – and the development of – skills that UK plc. desperately needs.    

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