News of the acute labour shortages which are currently crippling the UK is no longer confined to specialist recruitment publications; stories on skills gaps have now jumped firmly onto the front pages of tabloids and broadsheets alike. However, while the mass media is concerned with a shortage of blue-collar workers post Brexit, our figures show that the white-collar jobs market is also booming. Behind the headlines, the professional recruitment market has continued to perform exceptionally well, with huge increases in year-on-year vacancy and placement figures, while monthly data points towards a robust and resilient recruitment sector despite August traditionally being a time when hiring stalls.

Demand for contractors up 79% year-on-year

APSCo’s latest data, provided by growth analytics experts cube19, reveals that monthly figures for contract vacancies showed a 10% increase and permanent vacancies dipped by just 1% month-on-month. Unsurprisingly, year-on-year metrics for permanent and contract roles showed significant increases – up 47% and 79.5% respectively – which is in keeping with government reports that the number of individuals on payrolls is now very close to its pre-pandemic level, currently sitting at 28.9 million, compared with 29 million in March 2020. We simply don’t have enough candidates in the market – and employers are desperate for skills.

Confidence returning

With the professional jobs market continuing to bounce back from Covid-19 and confidence returning to both candidates and employers alike, it is clear that there is an increasing reliance on professional recruitment firms to help resource much needed skills in the professional sectors as talent shortages worsen due to not only the UK’s Brexit immigration policy but also the ‘great resignation.’ Our members are witnessing a trend where candidates who decided to stay put during the pandemic are now looking to move on, and this is leaving significant voids across the labour market.

This is in keeping with APSCo’s data on sales revenue for the recruitment sector, which reveals that revenue for permanent placements was up a healthy 11.5% in the second half of August compared to the beginning of the month.

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Candidate shortages

As Joe McGuire, Chief Revenue Officer at cube19, highlighted in our latest report, “July’s data was leaning towards August bucking the holiday trend, and I’m pleased to say that we haven’t seen the typical dips we’d expect at this time of year. New contract vacancies are at an all-time high, and this is going to further highlight the candidate shortages and the challenges around immigration.”

Ultimately, we are well and truly back to a highly candidate-led market where demand for professional skills across all our sectors is constantly outstripping supply.  If we look back at last year, a lot of projects and expansion plans were put on hold; with the economy now back on a growth trajectory, there is a real scramble for the skills needed to fulfil those projects and realise growth plans.

The Brexit effect

Aside from the impact of ‘the great resignation,’ there is obviously still the Brexit effect to contend with, particularly as there is no post-Brexit immigration policy that truly allows skilled contractors to work here on a project-by-project basis – a situation we are lobbying government about, as this policy has turned off a whole pool of EU talent that the UK has previously relied on.

Recent reports that the government will offer to 10,500 lorry drivers and poultry workers temporary visas in an attempt to avoid supply chain disruptions ahead of Christmas are promising: they indicate that Downing Street accepts that we must look beyond these shores to attain the skills we need to function and thrive. However, this attitude must be adopted more broadly if we are to avoid long-term talent gaps across the professional sectors. While the government has pledged to support future skills development in the UK in an effort to reduce reliance on workers from overseas, we need solutions now. At APSCo, we are continuing our calls to the government to provide a visa entry route into the UK that both allows and encourages high value independent professionals to work in the country on a project-basis. With the Covid-19 virus now seemingly under control and the majority of restrictions now lifted, the only limitation on the UK’s economic growth presently is access to talent – and the professional recruitment sector is best placed to advise on what steps must be taken to maintain access to vital skills.

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