With the Article 50 trigger date drawing inexorably closer, UK employers appear to be having a short break from hiring new professional staff. During November, both permanent and contracting vacancies for professionals flatlined, new data from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) suggests.

There was an average year-on-year decline of 0.3 per cent for permanent professional vacancies in November. This accords with the most recent Labour Market statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which revealed a dip in employment levels across the UK in November for the first time in 18 months.

The feeble overall growth recorded in APSCo’s data conceals noteworthy variations between the core sector groups monitored by the trade association. While permanent marketing vacancies soared by 13 per cent, equivalents in financial services rose by just one per cent, while both engineering and IT saw declines of five per cent.

In marked contrast to the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote in June, when employers dramatically increased their use of Umbrella Company Employees and other contracting professionals, demand for professional contractors dwindled by five per cent year-on-year across the board in November. Contractors specialising in Engineering were the only group to see a small rise in vacancies (one per cent), while IT and finance professionals saw sharp year-on-year declines of 13 and seven per cent respectively.

While job opportunities for IT contractors shrank by five per cent, openings for their permanent counterparts

expanded by exactly the same amount, suggesting that organisations are currently suspending the short-term approach to hiring that characterised the immediate post-Brexit climate.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), meanwhile, has forecast that the IT sector will preside over the highest levels of job creation in the UK during 2017, a prospect which may well see demand for contracting professionals picking up again.

APSCo CEO Ann Swain said that employers appear to be adopting an approach that is a little more cautious as the starting date for triggering formal negotiations to leave the EU draws closer.

While permanent vacancies have remained relatively resilient, Ms Swain conceded that demand for contracting professionals has indeed dipped. She continued: “As is often the way in times of uncertainty, the run up to the referendum and immediately after, employers turned to a contingent workforce to keep the wheels in motion.

“Now hiring managers are re-adjusting to the new landscape and taking a breather so that they can plan workforces strategically moving forwards.”

Acknowledging that the latest figures paint a less-than-rosy picture, Ms Swain emphasised that the UK employment rate is still high and cited CBI research predicting that 41 per cent of companies intend to expand their staffing headcounts this year, as opposed to just 13 per cent who anticipate their payrolls shrinking.

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