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Professional hiring up 4% with stark disparities between sectors

Professional recruitment firms had 4% more vacancies in December 2015 than during the same period of the previous year, according to new survey data from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo). This is in line with the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which reveals that overall employment levels increased by 588,000 year-on-year in the three months to November.


The latest data from APSCo reveals notable variations between the trade association’s core sector groups in terms of hiring activity. Permanent vacancies across finance & accounting and media & marketing, for example, were up year-on-year (16% and 8% respectively). Conversely, vacancies in engineering and IT dipped (by 14% and 4% respectively).


The continued boom of the financial and accounting sectors is mirrored by the latest research from recruitment consultancy Robert Half UK, which found that 38% of CFOs struggle to find and retain professionals with the right skills amid increasing workloads and upward pressure on salaries.


The decrease in engineering vacancies coincides with the recent announcement that Britain’s biggest steel producer, Tata, is cutting over 1,000 jobs as the UK manufacturing sector officially hits recession.


John Nurthen, executive director, Global Research for Staffing Industry Analysts, which compiles the report for APSCo, commented, “The growth in permanent vacancies has been remarkably stable since the beginning of 2015 and macro-economic factors, geo-political threats and a very jittery stock market has, so far, not damaged demand for professional workers in the UK. With an employment rate the highest since records began in 1971 and a government imposed cap on sponsored skilled workers from abroad in place, employers are clearly faced with a challenging environment to source the skills they need to grow their businesses. While forecasters are still predicting positive economic growth this year, these skills shortages pose a clear risk to UK prosperity.”


APSCo’s figures also reveal that median salaries across all professional sectors continue to climb steadily, increasing by 5.5% year-on-year. This figure is characterised by notable fluctuations in terms of sector, with consultancy and banking, for example, recording uplifts of 11.1% and 10.4% respectively. This rise in remuneration within the professional arena exceeds the national increase in salaries as reported by the ONS, which found that average earnings grew at an annual rate of 1.9% in the three months to November 2015.


Ann Swain, chief executive of APSCo, commented, “Despite reports that the UK faces a 'cocktail of threats' in 2016, Ernst & Young's Item Club has forecast that Britain's economy will grow 2.6% this year, and our members are confident that, against this backdrop, overall hiring levels will continue on their upward trajectory. UK unemployment is currently at a ten-year low and I firmly share the opinion of PwC’s chief economist, John Hawksworth, who recently went on record to say that the UK economy continues to be a remarkable job-creating machine.


“At a time when the UK is suffering from highly publicised skill shortages across sectors as diverse as construction, education and healthcare it is no wonder that professional salaries continue to climb. The war for talent is raging as organisations scramble to get their hands on the best people to facilitate future growth and productivity.”


Temporary and contract vacancies remain in-line with permanent positions across the professional staffing market with opportunities also up by 4% year-on-year. Vacancies within finance and accounting were particularly strong, skyrocketing by 66%.


Swain added, “Alongside a continual increase in permanent roles, contract vacancies are once again strong across the professional sectors. As we have long predicted, organisations no longer simply view contractors as a mechanism to cover absence, they recognise that a flexible workforce enables them to implement change, manage fluctuations in demand, and bring on board niche skill-sets that they would be hard pushed to secure on a permanent basis.


“This new ‘gig-economy’ is represented by the fact that, according to recent ONS figures, the number of self-employed workers rose by 98,000 year-on-year in the three months to November 2015. In fact, the number of self-employed workers looks set to overtake the number of public sector workers for the first time ever. The recruitment profession is under no illusions that contractors are the new dominant force in the labour market, and the way we work is changing to reflect this.


“Within financial services in particular, vacancies within finance and accounting continue to increase as financial institutions bring on board niche skill-sets on a project basis to manage change and an increase in workload as the financial year-end approaches and legislative deadlines loom. Bringing on board contractors not only has the benefit of easing pressure in the short-term, but also the retention of valuable permanent staff - who may themselves be lost to the ‘gig-economy’ long-term if they are bogged down with workload pressure.”

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