The State of the UK Staffing Sector: Was September a turning point?

For many, September was touted as the month that things would start to get back to “normal,” However it brought a mix of local lockdowns, further changes to the job retention scheme and various government announcements that will continue to reshape the business environment in the UK. While we’re certainly going to feel the economic impact from Covid-19 for the foreseeable future, September – despite its many hurdles – was actually a promising month for the staffing arena.

A sign of positivity? In fact, research throughout the month revealed several optimistic trends. Data from business intelligence specialist, Vacancysoft, for example, highlighted that jobs paying over £40k in London hit record levels at the end of the summer holidays. In comparison, in April, volumes of these roles understandably hit an all-time low of just 194 vacancies per day. But by the end of August this had reached 386 – almost returning to prelockdown levels.

The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) Recruitment Trends Snapshot – which collates data from growth analytics platform cube19 – also pointed to a strong start to September for white-collar jobs. Despite a 3% month on month drop in professional vacancies in August which we attributed in part to a seasonal lull in hiring, interview activity increased as we approached September. The data revealed an average 6% increase in interviews in the last two weeks of August compared with the first two weeks – a good indicator that a potential rebound in placements will follow through in the autumn.

PREMIUM CONTENT: Global Staffing Company Survey 2020: Concerns about current and upcoming legislation

Rebuilding Britain’s employment market. Of course, September was also full of various government announcements and restrictions that impacted us all. Boris Johnson’s statement in the middle of the month that workers should ‘stay at home if they can’ once again was arguably disheartening to some recruitment businesses that had begun to relish having staff back in the office. At the time of the announcement our members were beginning to see green shoots of activity that was driving business confidence up. While the clear impact of this move won’t be definable for a few weeks yet, it is likely to have a knock-on effect to optimism in what is already a difficult economy.

Unfortunately, this uncertainty looks set to remain for the immediate future at least, as the government tackles the spread of the virus. However, APSCo will continue to support its members with resources, guidance and updates as further developments emerge over the next few months in order to help staffing companies adapt, survive and thrive in this ever-changing economy.

The Brexit skills concerns resurface. For skills short sectors that rely heavily on STEM experts, the prime minister’s plans to encourage more of the UK’s adults to retrain in specialist technical fields certainly looks set to bolster skills in the future. However, as these training courses can take years to complete and the offer won’t be available until Spring 2021, the plans don’t address the immediate challenge that the country’s employers are going to face after the Brexit transition period.

Come Jan. 1, 2021, employers in sectors that have historically been reliant on hiring flexible resources from across Europe to fill skills gaps – including IT, construction and engineering – will face a real struggle to source these experts. The details published so far on the points-based immigration system provide a disappointing lack of detail around the movement of and access to highly skilled independent professionals across Europe.

A future fit staffing sector. We may be facing continued uncertainty, but the resilience of the staffing field continues to show. As the trade body for professional staffing companies, APSCo has always had the best interests of the sector at the heart of everything it does. In the difficult times that lie ahead, our focus will remain on supporting our members as we battle a global pandemic in the lead up to two significant dates in the recruitment calendar: the end of the Brexit transition period and the private sector roll out of IR35.


Ann Swain

Ann Swain
Ann Swain is global CEO of APSCo.

Ann Swain

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