Although a number of recent surveys indicate that demand for skilled PAYE umbrella contractors remains strong, a chill wind has issued from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), with new research suggesting that demand has actually taken a significant tumble this year.

In September 2010, the number of contractor vacancies appearing on job boards stood at 66,340; by September this year, the figure had fallen to 57,191 – a decrease of 13%. Unsurprisingly, the hardest hit sectors were banking and insurance, with IT contracting suffering most acutely in these fields.

The data is included in APSCo’s Monthly Trends report, which attributes the decline in available contractor roles to continued economic uncertainty and growing fears of a double-dip recession.

Speaking to the industry news outlet Shout99, APSCo Chief Executive Ann Swain said “Contractors are always the first into and the first out of a downturn. Employers tend to cut back on contingent workers before they slice into their permanent workforce, so with joblessness rising again, we would expect contractors to be bearing a disproportionate number of those job losses.”

She went on to note that the decline in contractor hiring follows a “robust recovery” in demand seen earlier in the year. However, Ms Swain shared her speculation that the current crisis in the Eurozone was having a particularly adverse effect on hiring intentions, but this would hopefully turn out to be a “momentary wobble.”

When employers need additional capacity, she explained, they tend to boost contractor numbers in preference to hiring costly permanent staff while the economy remains fragile.

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