As KPMG and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation release their latest comprehensive guide to the UK labour market for the final month of 2023, we summarise the topline takeaways from the report.
The latest report pointed to a reduction in permanent staff placements across the UK for the fifteenth straight month in December. Though this reduction softened from November, it was solid overall and stood in marked contrast to the long-run survey trend of rising placements. A softer demand for staff, fewer vacancies and hiring freezes due to ongoing uncertainty were all noted as driving this fall. In terms of what this looked like on a regional level, all four monitored English regions noted a decline in permanent staff appointments in the final month of 2023, seen at the sharpest pace of contraction in the Midlands.
Meanwhile, the report highlighted that temp billings at UK recruitment consultancies declined for the second straight month in December. This was attributed to reports of employers reducing their usage of short-term staff, often due to cost considerations and lower activity levels, though the rate of contraction was modest, having eased since November. This trend continued to diverge on a regional basis, as, while the North of England and London recorded higher temp billings at the end of the year, declines were seen in the South of England and the Midlands.
Total demand for staff continued to fall slightly in December, with vacancies now having fallen in three of the past four months. In terms of how this looked across the permanent and temporary markets, permanent staff vacancies across the UK fell for the fourth month running December, though the rate of decline remained only slight. Meanwhile, demand for temporary workers rose at the weakest pace in just over three years and only marginally.
Demand for permanent staff increased in the public sector during the final month of 2023, however fell further in the private sector. This marked the first rise in public sector vacancies for four months. In contrast, demand for temporary workers continued to increase across the private sector at the end of 2023, through at a softer pace. Short-term vacancies meanwhile continued to contract slightly in the public sector.
In terms of vacancy demand by sector, four of the ten monitored employment categories registered greater demand for permanent workers during December, led by Nursing/Medical/Care, while the fastest falls in permanent vacancies were seen in Construction and IT & Computing sectors.
Meanwhile, temporary staff demand increased in six of the monitored categories in December, led by Hotel & Catering which saw the steepest increase by far. The Construction and Retail categories, meanwhile, saw the sharpest decline in demand for temporary workers.
Overall candidate supply continued to expand sharply at the end of 2023, and has now expanded in each of the past ten months. Though rates of growth did soften since November in both cases, the availability of both permanent and temporary staff improved markedly in December.
Having expanded at the quickest rate for nearly three years, the report signalled a softer rise in permanent candidate numbers in December. Growth remained sharp overall, however, and was amongst the quickest seen since 2009 excluding the pandemic period. In terms of what drove higher permanent staff supply, redundancies were a primary factor noted, while there were also reports that lower levels of hiring activity had increased the pool of available workers. Looking at this by region, permanent candidate numbers increased sharply across all monitored English regions, bar the North of England, which saw a slight drop.
Meanwhile, temporary worker availability climbed further in December, marking the tenth successive month of increase in the number of workers available for short-term roles. While not as sharp as that seen in November, the rate at which temp worker availability increased remained sharp overall. In terms of what drove higher temp labour supply, panel members cited company layoffs and fewer client projects. Regionally, London registered the fastest increase in temp candidate numbers at the end of the year, whilst the softest increase was recorded in the Midlands.
December 2023 saw a slightly quicker increase in starting salaries within the permanent market, following November’s 23-month low, however, this pay growth was still the second-softest seen since March 2021. When asked what drove this, recruiters on the panel noted competition for suitably-skilled workers continuing to push up pay, though others reported that salary inflation was dampened by budgetary pressures at clients.
Within the temp market, a further uptick in hourly wages was recorded in December, at the quickest rate seen since August, though slightly softer than the historical average. In terms of what drove further pressure on wages in this area, the higher cost of living and shortages of suitably-skilled staff were noted. Regionally, this increase was registered in all monitored areas, led by the Midlands.
The key findings of the report for December are:
Downturn in hiring activity eased in December
Slightly stronger increase in starting pay recorded
Availability of workers continued to rise markedly
Demand for workers remains subdued
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