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Reviewing 2018’s market trends

Chris Hickey, CEO – UK, Middle East & Africa at Robert Walters, reflects on some of the key trends from the UK professional job market in 2018, and discusses what we can expect to see this coming year.




Despite high demand for specialist and highly skilled mid-level and senior professionals, employers had to contend with a UK-wide candidate shortage across most disciplines. Uncertainty around Brexit appeared to be creating a fear of ‘last in first out’, which in turn meant candidates were less willing to move roles as swiftly as they had in previous years.


The UK remained a ‘two-speed economy’, with London-based financial services firms experiencing slow growth due to Brexit-related concerns, while non-financial services companies outside of London experienced much faster growth. Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham have been particularly successful in positioning themselves as regional tech-hubs, attracting talent that would have historically migrated to London.


The technology industry was one of the fastest-growing markets across the whole of the UK and given the innovative and highly skilled nature of the industry there was an ongoing shortage of suitably qualified candidates.


Hiring across the legal sector became increasingly competitive, leading to firms paying premiums for experienced lawyers across most skill sets. Demand was partly due to a lack of lawyers at the two to four year PQE level, caused by a reduction in the number of trainees being hired a few years ago, coupled with the increase in European regulations.


In commerce and industry, demand for finance professionals remained strong across the UK at all levels, from part-qualified accountants through to finance directors. As candidates now understand their worth, they are increasingly pushing for commercial or strategic roles rather than core reporting positions.


Due to uncertainty around Brexit, banks and financial services firms took a relatively cautious approach to recruitment characterised by replacement hiring. Compliance, risk and audit were exceptions, with professionals in these areas highly sought after due to the pressure from regulators.


In comparison to the previous year, we saw salaries rise faster in 2018, but on the whole increases were not significant unless professionals were working in a market short of qualified professionals, such as technology or compliance.




The outcome of Brexit will be the key determinant of hiring market conditions in 2019, especially for the financial services sector.


However, despite Brexit, there will be pockets of intense hiring activity within financial services driven by demand for skills such as compliance, risk and audit.


Traditional finance functions will begin hiring at all levels as general business growth is likely to continue.


Technology aligned companies and venture capital backed start-ups show no signs of slowing down, and the rate at which they continue to attract investors will be a big pull for candidates who are looking to future-proof their careers.


We advise businesses facing candidate shortages to be flexible and consider hiring professionals with transferable skills. Companies should consider taking on candidates who are ambitious and fast learners, even if they are not an exact fit for the job description, in order to support areas of growth within the business.


Candidates looking for a new role should embrace digitalisation and innovation to ensure they remain current and relevant in changing working practices.


In-demand professions or specialist roles will continue to command premiums, but general salary inflation will be subject to, and defined by, the outcome of Brexit and other variable macroeconomic conditions.


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