Two sides of the same recruitment coin?

09 January 2016

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We go into the new year, expecting/hoping that January will see the usual surge in jobseekers determined to live up to the maxim “New Year, New Career”.  This has been such a feature of the employment market for so long that if it ever didn’t materialise I suspect there would be more than a whiff of concern amongst recruiters the length and breadth of the UK.  However, we won’t actually know just how the market has performed until January is over and this begs the question of just how much the employment/recruitment market does change against the backdrop of prevailing economic conditions. 

It is, of course, very important for recruitment firms and their clients and candidates (to say nothing of the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to know what “the market” is doing from one month to the next. However, it is very difficult to know what is actually happening UK-wide in real time and it’s even more difficult when it comes to recruitment to know whether new job numbers are up, down or merely treading water.

To illustrate the point, I had a look at the most recent figures available, from November last year. On the one hand, some of the big generalist job-boards, which tend to be more successful for low-mid level vacancies, produce reports based on their own statistics and attempt to extrapolate from them, claiming to provide a picture for “the market” as a whole.  A recent example of one such report suggested “the latest industry employment trends hint to a quiet end of the year for the British job market.”   According to this report, the IT and education sectors saw significant monthly and yearly decreases, “suggesting a weakening employer demand in those industries.”   Well, not from my perspective, but that’s exactly the point: we shouldn’t be arguing from specific examples but need to see the bigger picture.

On the other hand, the long established Markit/KPMG/REC survey of the recruitment industry in November presents a slightly different picture … “Faster growth of staff appointments. Permanent staff placements increased at a stronger rate in November, with the rate of expansion quickening to a seven-month high. Temporary/contract staff billings also rose at a faster pace, with growth the sharpest in five months.  Vacancy growth eases but still strong.  Demand for staff continued to rise in November. Although easing to a 29-month low, the rate of expansion remained marked overall.”   Most significantly, from our perspective, “The strongest growth was reported for IT and Computing workers.”  Once more from my perspective this is right, but again we shouldn’t be arguing from specific examples…so, can both these surveys be right? 

The reality is that job advertising always declines in December, so it’s perhaps no surprise that a major job-board would predict “a quiet end of the year for the British job market.”  That said, both reports note some relative decline to the end of the year, albeit it’s important to note that, as per the Markit survey, this does not mean that the number of jobs on recruiters books is not growing.

Also, while those recruitment consultants who are the source for the Markit survey are big advertisers on job-boards, their workload does not necessarily follow the same pattern as the postings on the average job-board, given that they are advertising several weeks before a job should be filled.  However, in December, recruitment firms tend to ease off on their advertising because they know most people are relaxing and not thinking about a new job over the Christmas/New Year holiday.

The government does not (I’m pretty sure) base its predictions solely on a couple of industry surveys, no matter how influential they are. The ONS (Office of National Statistics) Statistics report, which came out a week or so after the reports cited above, could not be more clear about the general state of employment/unemployment in the UK.  The headline stats from their December report (covering the period from Aug – Oct) were:

There were 31.30 million people in work, 207,000 more than for May to July 2015 and 505,000 more than for a year earlier.

There were 22.88 million people working full-time, 338,000 more than for a year earlier. There were 8.42 million people working part-time, 167,000 more than for a year earlier.

The employment rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were in work) was 73.9%, the highest since comparable records began in 1971.

Looking in more detail at the number of vacancies (see the ONS chart above), it seems that while vacancies are the highest they’ve been (specifically in the Sep-Nov 2015 quarter), they may have levelled off so what matters now is how the jobs market develops in 2016.  My view is that for IT at least we’re going to see many more vacancies.  Crucially, the most senior level jobs are going to become even more important as IT itself becomes more important – as we all know it must if we are to compete as a country on the global stage.  Vision, clarity of purpose and sound executive leadership will be essential if the UK economy is to continue to expand, and IT and computing must play a key role in this expansion. 

Gareth Biggerstaff, MD, Be-IT Resourcing

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