Professional contractors see demand rise

Thursday 12 September 2013

As the UK makes a tentative return to economic recovery, the job market is slowly picking up. But long-established skills gaps are beginning to grow even wider as businesses look to raise their headcounts. According to the latest trends report from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), demand for skilled professional roles is firmly on the rise, meaning contractors are likely to reap the rewards.

Despite the fact that permanent placements and vacancies are still on the decline, according to the research, it is clear that the labour market is showing signs of life - year on year the rate of contraction has slowed down, and compared to last month placements actually rose, albeit by a relatively small 1.4 per cent.

However, among professional disciplines the picture is brighter. Marketing, engineering and IT all enjoyed monthly rises of 1.5 per cent in August; given that this occurred in spite of the traditional slump over the course of the summer holiday period, this is likely to be indicative of a larger upswing in activity.

“UK employers seem to be reacting bullishly to the improved economic outlook and upgraded GDP forecasts,” says John Nurthern, executive director of international development at Staffing Industry Analysts, who compiled the research for APSCo.

This is made clearer by comparison with last year. Engineering and construction saw vacancies rise by as much as 39 per cent from a year ago, perhaps the result of new investment in construction, infrastructure and the UK oil and gas sector. At the same time, online advertisements for IT vacancies have risen by ten per cent compared to the same period last year, while marketing, media and creative roles demonstrating a 15 per cent year-on-year improvement.

But the job role demonstrating a sudden improvement in demand is finance and accounting. Across July and August, vacancies for finance roles increased by 15 per cent year on year, including a three per cent rise for each of the past three months. APSCo notes that demand has risen “exponentially” over the past quarter, and cites Randstad research showing that by 2050, skills shortages and an ageing population will have left the UK 10,200 accountants short.

“While this skills gap was suppressed early in the recession, it is now coming home to roost in the professional sector and our members are reporting shortages of suitably qualified professionals not only in the accounting and finance arena but also in sectors such as IT, engineering and marketing,” says Ann Swain, chief executive of APSCo.

“The skills shortages have always been there but as the recovery gains pace and employers have more confidence to hire, we could be facing a real problem.”

APSCo says that the UK is experiencing a sizeable “brain drain” as educated professionals move abroad, contributing to an already pronounced skills gap which is taking its toll on many professions. As a result, employers are now competing to retain top talent with their rivals all over the world. With staff becoming more willing to relocate for the right opportunity and vacancies already rising considerably, businesses are likely to turn towards the specialist skills of freelancers and contractors to cope with an upswing in activity.

By Victoria McDonnell

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