Engineer demand shows no sign of slowdown

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Engineering skills are still in high demand, but finance professionals are also becoming more highly sought, according to new research which shows that contractors will see the benefits of a continued growth in opportunities.

The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) found that placements and vacancies for contractors and other temporary workers alike rose by two per cent last month, a trend which was duplicated among permanent staff.

APSCo says that in the context of the modest growth in GDP figures, the figures could suggest that the market for professional jobs is entering a period of recovery.

Contractors are only too aware of the desperate skills shortage in the engineering sector. The lack of specialist expertise is now a fact of life in industries around the world, driving companies towards freelance talent which is now at a premium. Rises in the number of vacancies for these jobs roles are appearing at the same time as placements are falling, which APSCo says is a sure sign that the problem is becoming more acute - which means that contractors will inevitably pick up the slack.

Evidence for this shift towards contractors is clear across the country. On average, contract vacancies rose by 12 per cent across the whole of the UK, indicating the growing need for flexible workers throughout the economy.

But in London, the picture was very different. Contract vacancies dropped by five per cent in the capital, but the decline was far less marked than among permanent staff, where vacancies fell by as much as seven per cent. Unusually, London was the only region in the whole of the UK where vacancies for white collar professionals on a range of jobs boards fell.

APSCo says that some changes can be partially accounted for by a general historical trend away from permanent staff and towards a more flexible workforce. Economic uncertainty has left many employers seeking to increase their capacity to cope with a rise in demand, but unwilling to commit to hiring permanent workers in the event of another downturn. Contractors and interim staff are a natural choice to fulfil this need.

Ann Swain, APSCo chief executive, says that combined with recent official data the report points towards green shoots in the professional labour market.

She added that official job figures show that full-time work is increasing more quickly than part-time employment, with a year-on-year rise in vacancies of nearly nine per cent. Since the number of jobseekers claimants fell by a surprising four per cent during the same period, Ms Swain added, it is clear that the situation is beginning to improve.

John Nurthern is executive director of international development for research compilers Staffing Industry Analysts.

“Our expectation for the UK staffing industry as a whole was that a weak first half of the year would lead to a better second half,” he said. “The first half certainly seems to have lived up to expectations.”

However, he added that some positive market indicators had suggested contractors and other professionals could be cautiously optimistic for the next few months.

By Victoria McDonnell

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