Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) would suggest that the UK economy has bounced back. GDP levels are back to the pre-pandemic levels of Q4 2019, while national unemployment is just 3.9%.

UK firms are appearing confident and are planning for the future.  The latest REC Jobs Outlook Survey suggests that firms are optimistic. Both investment and hiring intentions look promising, with net: +13, signalling a desire to take on new staff in the coming months.

However, despite these buoyant headlines, feedback from recruitment colleagues from across the UK indicates no end to the significant workforce challenges being experienced by UK businesses.

Although there may be clear intentions to hire, the reality on the ground makes these goals seem demanding.

March recruitment data has seen a further escalation in job vacancies coupled with significant candidate shortages. Employers are struggling to hire across all sectors thanks to fewer EU workers, the economic impacts of the war in Ukraine, the cost of living pressures, and of course the residual bite of the pandemic.

On the flip side, it means that should you be a job seeker there are opportunities aplenty. With starting salaries also at a record high, it’s also likely that you will be compensated handsomely as organisations battle for skilled talent.

Here are the monthly findings of the job market through the lens of recruitment professionals across the UK.

The Recruitment Landscape – March 22.


March has seen another sharp and noticeable increase in the overall number of vacancies.  Not only have vacancies risen from February, but the rate of expansion in March was also the quickest since September 2021.

The upturn in vacancy levels is consistent among both permanent and temporary roles; both sectors have reached 6 and 7-month highs respectively. However, it is permanent vacancy growth that continues to dominate. This is nothing new and has consistently been the case over the past 12 months.

Vacancies rose across both private and public sectors. The strongest rate of growth was recorded for permanent roles in the private sector, while the slowest was for permanent staff in the public sector.

Official numbers say the same.  In the 3 months to February 2022, the ONS confirms that YoY vacancies are up +114% (1,318,000 jobs).  This is +62.5% higher than that recorded pre-pandemic in the 3 months to Feb 2020.  Not only this, but these numbers are also the highest since the eight-month economic downturn of 2001.

a red for hire sign on a metal post

Vacancies by sector.

As has been the case since the start of the year, the IT and computing sectors have reported the highest number of permanent vacancies.

The pandemic has kickstarted (and necessitated) the digital transformation efforts of companies across every industry, and of course tech, digital, and data professionals are needed to realise these intentions.

Across the temporary sector, it has been the need for blue-collar and hospitality and catering staff that has dominated.  Industry thinkers have put this down to high levels of positive covid cases…businesses have looked to temporary staff to fill the short-term gaps left by those isolating.

an african american candidate is being interviewed by two young professional women

Hiring and placements.

Here at Ignite, we have enjoyed a booming Q1 and we haven’t noticed a particular slowing in permanent placements.

However, this isn’t the experience of recruitment consultants across the UK.  Our peers have reported a slowdown in hiring activity within both the perm and temp markets. Both sectors experienced lows – 12 and 11-month lows respectively.

It should be noted though that placement is still elevated from historical levels.

March saw an increase in permanent placements for the 13th consecutive month, while temporary billings eased for the 2nd consecutive month. Again though, we must echo that by historical standards, temporary placements are still strong.

Candidate availability.

Once again, recruitment professionals have reported a significant shortfall in candidates. The lack of talent remains worrying.  Looking beyond international uncertainty, candidate availability is widely believed to be the main threat to UK total economic recovery.

This anecdotal evidence is indicative of a broad and national problem.  The ONS confirms that there has been a significant increase in economic activity. There are more professionals out of work AND not looking for new employment. This reduced talent pool means less hiring opportunity for businesses looking to recruit both permanent and temporary roles.

What can be done about candidate availability?

We can’t help but think the candidate availability situation is one that must be dealt with at both a macro and micro level.

On a national scale, the Government must react proactively to support businesses.  There must be incentives for organisations to support and upskill the staff they already have. Financial incentives allowing investment in its people and their development are critical if firms are to achieve the skills they need.

It has been proven that new hires and employees value those organisations that are invested in professional growth and development. In these times of candidate scarcity, businesses must look to both attract and retain. Training schemes and learning opportunities are critical. Bursaries, grants, and other financial rewards must be extended to businesses to allow them to offer employees these opportunities.

It should not just be large organisations with deep pockets that can win the war for talent.

On a smaller scale, businesses and the recruitment industry must get creative.  We must broaden searches and encourage our clients to look for candidates who may not be the finished article.   Organisations looking to hire have the space to train and develop junior or aspiring professionals into enthusiastic, motivated, and highly skilled individuals.

Mentorship schemes are often an untapped resource; one that holds benefits for all involved.

Are you an employer looking for advice on how you can support the learning and professional development of your tech team? Read our advice here.

In-demand skills.

Tech and digital recruitment is our passion here at Ignite. It’s with interest that we look to the reported skills that the IT and computing sector is most in need of.

This month our peers reported that the tech skill sets most in demand are

  • C#
  • Java
  • Data professionals
  • Developers
  • Automation testers
  • Software engineers.

Pay and salary.

Once again starting salaries increased in March.  Approximately 58% of our peers noted a higher starting salary amid intense competition for skilled candidates.

The compensation for permanent staff grew at a record pace, beating the previous peak we saw in November 2021.

The rise was so significant in fact, that the rate of inflation was the steepest recorded since the survey began in October 1997.

The ONS released data that supports a national increase in employee earnings.  Year on year, employee earnings (including bonuses) rose almost 5% in the 3 months to January 2022.  Predominantly, the increase was driven by pay growth across the private sector; the public sector saw a softer expansion.

Looking to Q2.

Despite positive headlines signalling UK economic recovery, recruitment still faces significant challenges amid a tight jobs market.

Record numbers of vacancies coupled with record lows of candidates are not a happy marriage and make hiring a tricky prospect.

However, we are more optimistic than ever about Q2 here at Ignite and we relish the challenge on the horizon. We enjoyed a better than ever Q1 securing many permanent hires for our clients. Contract billings are significant, with new contractors being placed at new and existing clients throughout March.

Across the UK, IT and computing professionals are reported to be the most in-demand. Are you a tech, digital, or data professional looking for new opportunities? Perhaps you are looking to hire, scale or grow your tech team?

We can help. Reach out to Ignite today!

About the author: As a founder of Ignite Digital Talent, I lead our brilliant team to ensure we deliver time and time again for our clients. I also stay closely networked with industry influencers to ensure we are well placed to understand the issues and challenges our clients face.

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