Hiring in the UK: The latest trends indicate positivity

The summer months often show seasonal peaks and troughs of hiring across professional services as some sectors see recruitment slow with fewer people seeking jobs during the holiday period, while others such as retail, tourism and hospitality tend to see activity pick up. But in true 2020 fashion, many of the trends we’d expect to see haven’t come to fruition as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the global economy. However, while I have absolutely no doubt that times are tough for everyone at the moment – including staffing businesses which have certainly been hit hard by Covid-19 – the latest statistics are certainly looking promising.

The early days of the pandemic. Understandably, back in March, we reported that hiring levels had plummeted as a significant portion of the UK ground to a halt during lockdown. At the time, our members were reporting some rather concerning statistics. Two thirds (67%) of recruitment firms indicated that permanent hiring within their sector had been put on hold and almost 90% said that up to half of their contractors had already been terminated. And that was just the beginning of the troubles for the staffing sector.

Since then, the recruitment world has had no choice but to watch as report after report showed hiring levels were down both year on year and month on month. But as June came around and parts of the UK began to reopen once again, things began to look up and by the end of July, things certainly appeared to be more promising.

In fact, in APSCo’s latest Recruitment Trends Snapshot, data provided by growth analytics platform cube19 revealed that job opportunities continued to improve throughout July following a good performance in June. Month over month, the number of new permanent professional vacancies added in July were up 14% and, perhaps more encouragingly, we began to see the gap in annual figures close following the initial drop caused by Covid-19.

While year on year vacancy numbers were down 36% for permanent and 31% for contract roles in July, this marked a drop in the yearly discrepancy caused by the pandemic, with June’s figures revealing hiring had dropped 46% and 36% respectively when compared to the same period in 2019.

PREMIUM CONTENT: Global Staffing Industry Forecast: August 2020 Interim Update

Vacancies bucked the trend in the lead-up to the summer holidays. This uptick in positivity was also be noted in the daily tracking data provided by cube19, with the number of permanent new vacancies added during July showing a small increase of 1% at the end of the month when compared to the beginning. As the UK enters the holiday period it’s normal to see hiring slow, so any increase, no matter how small, is a positive indication. Contract roles also saw an uptick in demand, with an average increase of 7% from the start of July to the end.

Clearly there has been a level of confidence return to the UK as glimmers of hope and pockets of hiring activity open up. However, we are by no means out of the woods yet and the coming weeks will certainly be telling in terms of how sustainable this upward trend is when the Government’s support winds down. As we edge closer to the end of the job retention scheme, there’s undoubtedly many people on furlough waiting with bated breath to find out what the future holds for their job prospects. In fact, a report from the CIPD and the Adecco Group published mid-August suggested that one in three companies were expecting to cut jobs in the third quarter of 2020.

It looks as if we could soon be facing a flood of job seekers and while there is certainly an onus on the Government and employers to do what they can to support the UK’s economic recovery, it will be the skills and abilities of seasoned recruiters that will truly make an impact on those individuals facing uncertainty in their careers. How staffing companies support those out of work now, will define their strengths post-pandemic. So, while there will certainly be tough competition for placements, it’s important to ensure your recruiters don’t forget what recruitment is about: people supporting people.


Ann Swain

Ann Swain
Ann Swain is global CEO of APSCo.

Ann Swain

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