New survey data from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) suggests that Brexit-related uncertainties among UK hirers are stalling vacancies in the professional jobs market for both permanent and contingent/contracting talent.

While there was a year-on-year growth of 9% in permanent placements in September 2018, professional recruitment firms participating in the survey revealed that vacancies (demand) declined for both permanent and contracting talent over the same period. Demand for permanent professionals slipped by 2%, while demand for contracting talent dipped overall by 5%.

Even so, demand for contracting professionals in the financial services sector leapt by 20% year-on-year.

The growth in permanent placements was largely attributable to a sizeable 49% surge in placements within the IT sector. Financial services generated a 3% rise in permanent placements, but engineering and marketing both saw declines of 3% and 10% respectively.

The number of contractors actively engaged on assignments dipped year-on-year by 12%, with the use of contracting professionals falling across each of the core sectors monitored by APSCo bar one: financial services, where actively engaged contractor numbers expanded by 7% compared to September 2017.

The easing of demand hints at a possible slowdown in the professional recruitment market in the months ahead.

Commenting on the findings, APSCo CEO Ann Swain said that although permanent hiring appeared to remain robust at present, the near-term was laden with uncertainties which “have the potential to flip permanent hiring in an instant”. This ominous cloud of uncertainty, she said, explains why vacancy levels “have stalled across the board”.

Ms Swain speculated that businesses were already easing back on hiring until they have greater clarity over not only the UK’s post-Brexit trading relationship with the EU, but future immigration policy and, more immediately, what the forthcoming budget will bring vis-à-vis tax legislation.

Noting that the GDP was flatlining and that reports were circulating that the British economy was facing its worst year since the worldwide financial crisis, Swain observed that it was hardly surprising that organisations may be more cautious about expanding their permanent headcounts at present.

She added: “Furthermore, suggestions that changes to off-payroll working to the public sector may be extended to the private sector as early as April 2019 could have the potential to hamper access to the flexible workforces that businesses need to bridge the gap at this uncertain time.”

Even the resilient demand for talent in financial services wasn’t entirely safe, she warned. The Government has recently conceded that it expects thousands of jobs in the sector to migrate to the EU by the time Brexit is formally concluded, raising questions over how long this hiring resilience will continue.

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