With widespread reports of skills shortages across the UK it is no wonder that demand for candidates is booming. The professional recruitment market in particular continues to perform exceptionally well, and our members are seeing continued demand for new skills across almost every sector, with significant year-over-year increases in vacancy and placement figures.

This is both positive and concerning. While the recruitment consultancies we represent are encouraged by an explosion in hiring, there are simply not enough available candidates to keep pace with demand. Consequently, employers have to be more creative in their talent attraction strategies in a post-Covid environment where talent wants more from companies than salary alone. As the latest research from Reed.co.uk suggests, businesses must adapt their offerings in accordance with new priorities shaped by the pandemic if they are to have any hope in securing the people they need to thrive.

Perm placements up 91% year-over-year. APSCo’s recent data, provided by growth analytics expert cube19, reveals that permanent vacancies and placements showed marked increases year over year — up 39% and 91% respectively.  This is entirely reflective of the easing of restrictions over the summer of 2020, which was quickly followed by the government reintroducing working from home and a 10 p.m. curfew for the hospitality sector in the latter part of September last year. September’s rise in placements this year is also indicative of the unseasonal spike in vacancies that were noted in August translating into placement success for the staffing sector.

However, the fact that both permanent and contract vacancies also increased between August and September 2021 — up 13% and 7% respectively — is indicative of the widely reported skills shortages across the professional sector that continue to drive demand for talent. This is in line with the data from the Office for National Statistics, which shows vacancies hit record highs between July and September. Official figures show the number of UK workers on company payrolls has surged by more than 120,000 above pre-pandemic levels after a record jump in September, as vacancies also remain above a million.

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Increased reliance on staffing companies. This spike in demand for skills results in an increasing reliance on professional recruitment firms to help resource much-needed talent for struggling businesses. In fact, APSCo’s data on sales revenue for the recruitment sector reveals a significant jump in recruitment spend. While the year-over-year increase in revenue is to be expected given the 2020 September restrictions that were in place across parts of the UK, even month-over-month figures show a 16% and 2% increase in sales revenue respectively for contractor and permanent placement. Clearly, employers see the value in engaging experts to source vital skills during these unprecedented times.

Indeed, recent research from the Open University has found that a massive 91% of organizations in the UK struggled to find workers with the right skills over the past 12 months — and this talent shortage is costing organizations £6.3 billion.

A candidate short market. As Joe McGuire, chief revenue officer at cube19, highlighted in our latest report: “After seeing the growth numbers revised up, it is encouraging but maybe not surprising to see these stats rising again. There is a significantly growing demand for contractors and in spite of perm vacancies still trending behind pre-pandemic levels, perm placements are at an all-time high, which is indicative of a candidate short market. There are some clear challenges in front of us, but we remain positive that the professional recruitment market will remain buoyant for some time.”

Skills shortages rife. While it’s encouraging to see vacancy and placement numbers increasing, skills shortages are rife across every industry. Where there’s a limited availability of skills, employers are going to have to be more creative at attracting top talent.

And despite the chancellor announcing in his budget that a “Scale up Visa” will be introduced to help fast-growing businesses better attract international talent, along with the planned launch of the Global Talent Network to help entice talented individuals to the UK in key science and technology sectors, more is needed. What is still missing is a viable and attractive entry route for highly-skilled independent professionals and the self-employed who will play a significant role in helping the country as the economy continues to recover — something APSCo will continue to call on the government to provide.

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