The latest survey data on the professional jobs market from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) reveals an across-the-board 13 per cent year-on-year dip in demand for contracting professionals in June 2017, although the number of contractors actively on assignments climbed by four per cent over the same interval.

As reported by professional recruitment companies, vacancies for permanent roles rose by two per cent y-o-y in June, with placements climbing by four per cent over the same interval. Permanent placements, in other words, outpaced permanent vacancies by two to one.

There were, however, appreciable variations in hiring activity between APSCo’s core sector groups. Finance and engineering saw vacancies for permanent roles rise by eight per cent and four per cent respectively, while permanent vacancies for IT fell by five per cent.

The figures for non-permanent flexible staff, such as high-end Umbrella Company Employees and other contracting professionals, are intriguing. The rise in the number of contracting professionals on assignment indicates that the contractor market remains strong despite the y-o-y fall in demand. Yet, the latter indicates a slowdown of sorts may be on the horizon.

The number of contracting professionals on assignment in the engineering sector surged by 20 per cent during the same period, while permanent placements climbed by four per cent.

Increased hiring activity in this sector is undoubtedly linked to the boom in major UK infrastructure projects. Recent research by Engineering UK found that to complete these projects, the country will require an additional 1.8 million engineers and technically qualified people by 2025. This is a plausible explanation for the 2.4 per cent year-on-year increase in average pay in the sector.

Commenting on the latest survey findings, APSCo CEO Ann Swain noted the continued strengthening in placement numbers for flexible contracting and permanent professionals in June. Noting, however, that the forward trajectory appeared far less certain, she found this hardly surprising in the context of unprecedented uncertainty now facing both UK hirers and candidates, who are understandably becoming more hesitant about making major employment decisions in the current landscape.

Addressing the flexible sector (and summing up its appeal succinctly), she added: “Looking at activity in the contractor market specifically, it seems that although organisations are currently making full use of flexible workforces, many have put the brakes on bringing on board additional interims as summer approaches. However, as heightened levels of activity in the engineering sector demonstrates, the strength of the contractor market lies in its ability to flex with rapid changes in demand, and as such, the market can change in an instant.”

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