UK jobs recruitment boom sparks ‘war for talent’ after pandemic layoffs

Naomi Ackerman and Jim Armitage
·3 min read
<p>Golden hellos - and golf - are back</p> (PA)

Golden hellos - and golf - are back

(PA)

A “war for talent” is underway across London as firms spanning financial services, legal, PR and construction launch hiring sprees to rebuild their top tiers after a year of pain.

In a sign there may be a “roaring Twenties” bounceback from the Covid destruction to the jobs market, CEOs of major companies and recruiters told the Standard they are seeing the most competitive talent hunt in years.

Recruitment giant Robert Walters said 598 banking jobs were being advertised this week in London against 133 in the same week last year - a 349% jump.

FTSE 250 recruiter Hays said 56% of employers are recruiting – with 67% looking to hire intermediate and senior level staff.

Meanwhile, the closely-watched Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose from 56.4 in March to 60 in the first weeks of April - showing the UK’s private sector is growing at its fastest rate since 2013.

The data also shows the steepest rate of job creation since August 2017.

One global advertising CEO said: “The jobs market is so hot in media. I’ve had staff telling me they’re being offered 20% pay rises to go elsewhere. The war for talent is in full flow.”

A major PR agency chief added: “It’s booming right now. Staff know they have options and it’s a job to try and keep them.”

In the year to March, 813,000 jobs were lost in the UK, particularly hitting the shuttered hospitality and leisure sectors.

But UK-wide vacancies surged by 16% in the first quarter, according to ONS figures, and pent-up demand from businesses and professionals waiting until more certain times to make moves has now been unleashed.

Hays CEO, Alistair Cox, said that in tech, the jobs scene was strong throughout Covid and is getting stronger.

The latest KPMG quarterly tech monitor revealed that in the three months to March, UK tech sector firms hired staff at the fastest pace seen since the second quarter of 2019.

Tech Nation chief executive, Gerard Grech, said advertised tech roles grew by 36% in 2020, and data from Adzuna shows there were 100,000 technology jobs being advertised in the UK in February.

Robert Walters’ UK managing director, Chris Poole, said: "March was incredibly busy for us. It almost felt like a line in the sand - it was incredibly busy across all sectors.

“Technology has been busy all the way through, but there has been a lot of pent-up demand within legal, within accountancy, within financial services. Even manufacturing, procurement, supply chain - it has been across the board.

"The Boris announcement has been the green light. It's good to go, the confidence is back. It's as busy as we have seen it in a number of years."

One FTSE-100 sized CEO said: “It’s the same after every recession. We all cut hard and fast, then business picks up and we all compete to hire again.”

Recruitment firms are now trying to work out if the boom will continue through 2021, Poole said, adding that a notable change has been people living around the UK applying for jobs based in London due to new flexi-working opportunities.

Cox said Hays is seeing rising demand in engineering to support projects re-starting after being delayed by the pandemic, with the most sought-after roles including multi-skilled maintenance engineers, production shift managers and automation engineers.

In the tech sector, the most in-demand tech role is that of software developer, Grech said, with cybersecurity also in high demand.

“Tech is undoubtedly driving job creation across the UK,” he said. “Overall, 10% of all UK job vacancies are now in tech, demonstrating the strength and resilience of the digital economy.”

Amy Gilman, head of people at fintech Freetrade, said the firm is looking to double its headcount this year, and hailed demand in the sector.

She said: “As the vaccine rollout has progressed smoothly, we’re now seeing pent up demand in the UK market play out in a mini-boom.”

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