Demand for professional talent softens ahead of EU referendum, APSCo reveals
Professional recruitment firms now have just 1% more vacancies on their books than this time last year according to new survey data from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo).
APSCo says this slowdown in demand, which follows months of rapid growth for the professional recruitment sector, is in line with the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, which found that overall vacancy numbers dipped by 0.1% in the three months to February. UK unemployment also rose by 21,000 to 1.7m during the same period.
The latest data from APSCo reveals notable variations between the trade association’s core sector groups in terms of hiring activity. While permanent vacancies across both financial services and marketing, for example, have increased (10% and 12% respectively), IT and engineering have both recorded dips (5% and 13% respectively).
The ongoing growth of the finance and accounting sectors, which APSCo has reported in recent months, is in line with data from Robert Walters, which found that demand for tax professionals across the UK increased by 8% in the first quarter of 2016 as increased scrutiny over the financial dealings of large corporations created pressure to improve transparency.
APSCo’s figures also reveal that median salaries across all professional sectors continue to climb steadily, increasing by 3.9% year-on-year. This figure is characterised by notable fluctuations in terms of sector, with financial services, for example, recording an uplift of 8.4%. 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 1.8% in the year to February 2016 - the slowest rate of increase since January 2015.
Ann Swain, chief executive of APSCo, commented, “While demand for professional contractors has increased year-on-year, the rate of growth is far less than we have become accustomed to in recent months, creating a perception of market slowdown. However, it is worth remembering that the employment rate remains the joint highest on record at 74.1%.
“Commentary and conjecture surrounding Europe, not least the Treasury’s 200-page Brexit analysis, has of course had a negative effect on hiring confidence. But regardless of market uncertainty, professional talent is a valuable commodity which is crucial to the success of any organisation. With this in mind, remuneration levels for skilled workers have remained strong despite the fact that hiring is temporarily cooling.”
Temporary and contract vacancies remain largely unchanged across the professional staffing market with opportunities up by just 1% across the board year-on-year. Vacancies across financial services, however, are particularly strong, rising by 30%.
Swain added, “While contractor vacancies often counterbalance a fall in demand for permanent talent, the fact that all hiring activity has close to flat-lined is indicative of the extent to which uncertainty linked to the EU referendum is deterring companies from taking on new staff.
“Britain’s service and manufacturing sectors are stalling, housebuilding is slowing and consumer confidence is at its lowest level for more than a year. It seems that British business has well and truly pressed the ‘pause’ button while it awaits the outcome on the UK’s future in Europe.
“The exception to the rule is the financial services sector, where external influences and ongoing change management projects mean demand for talent remains insatiable. Predictions that up to 100,000 financial services jobs could be lost if Britain votes to leave the European Union will have deterred decision makers from creating full-time positions in the short-term, and contractors are being drafted in in droves to plug vital skills gaps.”