UK recovery boosts contractor demand

Friday 9 August 2013

A return to growth in the UK economy is pushing contractor demand upwards, according to the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo).

Figures from the Office for National Statistics recently showed that the UK economy grew by 0.6 per cent in the last quarter, building on a smaller rise of 0.3 per cent in the three months beforehand. It looks as if this slow and steady improvement is giving the UK jobs market a much-needed boost.

Among the sectors receiving a new lease of life in the past couple of months, none was better served than construction and engineering. In total, the online recruitment data analysed by ASPCo revealed a 59 per cent increase in permanent vacancies for property and construction roles in June. This suggests that firms are becoming more confident about the future to the point where they are willing to make the commitment to increasing their headcount on a long-term basis. Even so, contractors do not appear to be losing out as a result - contract vacancies shot up by a remarkable 69 per cent in June compared to the previous month, indicating that demand for independent workers and employees alike is on the rebound in a sector which has been hit hard by the financial crisis.

“It is encouraging to see such an upswing in a sector that has suffered so much in the last few years,” says Ann Swain, APSCo chief executive.

Engineers may have seen a smaller rise in vacancies, but this could well be because established skills shortages in the industry have been keeping vacancy levels high for some time. In this area too, demand for contractors outstripped that for permanent employees, with improvements of 22 and 17 per cent respectively.

New projects and record investment in the oil and gas sector have played a major role in spurring this growth, but Ms Swain points out that the UK is always at risk of losing top talent to projects overseas.

“The UK does have to compete heavily for talent with other locations – all of which need the same skill sets,” she says.

Whereas the same skills are becoming rarer in the engineering industry, the marketing sector is beginning to notice a shift in the skill set required. Many organisations are putting more and more emphasis on their digital marketing strategies, meaning that social-media and web-savvy professionals are becoming increasingly highly sought. However, fears abound that this could be contributing to a new approach to recruitment where youth in being prized over experience.

“There is a misplaced belief that younger people are better placed to use the new tools on offer – but that’s simply not an accurate picture,” says Simon Bassett, managing director of APSCo member EMR.

He explains that technology is just one of many tools available to marketers in the 21st century and can be used alongside other media to build brands and increase audience engagement.

“In many cases, older professionals are the ones who work hardest to maximise the potential of technological innovations, using their knowledge and experience to greater effect than younger professionals.”

Whatever the cause, talent shortages are evidently becoming a serious problem for the marketing sector. APSCo’s members reported that despite the number of vacancies remaining relatively stable, the amount of placements arranged has fallen by just over a fifth compared to June 2012.

By Victoria McDonnell

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