Hiring fell flat in the face of referendum uncertainty

Hayley Kirton
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Firms' hiring intentions took a tumble as the referendum drew closer (Source: Getty)

Firms appear to have pressed pause on their hiring intentions in the run-up to last month's EU membership vote, figures out today suggest.

The research from the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (Apsco), which represents staffing firms focused on hiring professionals, found that the number of permanent vacancies did not grow during May 2016.

However, those looking for a role in financial services who aren't particularly fussed about being tied to one employer were in luck, as contract vacancies in this sector rocketed by 27 per cent.

"This is a sector which could arguably be disproportionately affected if the UK exits the single market – so it seems that interims are being drafted in to cover workload until long-term strategies are in place," said Ann Swain, chief executive of Apsco.

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Vacancies for contractors and other temporary roles in general inched up by one per cent, and Swain warned that seeking out temporary workers in favour of permanent ones could become the new norm as employers grapple with uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote.

However, John Nurthen, executive director, Global Research for Staffing Industry Analysts, which compiles the report for Apsco, added:

The fact that our data showed a weaker professional staffing market in the run up to referendum is interesting but, given the dramatic outcome of the vote, it's unclear how relevant this will be in understanding the post-Brexit prospects for professional staffing suppliers.

If the majority of economists are right, we are looking at less-optimistic economic prospects over the next few years, if not an outright recession. On the plus side, the staffing industry benefits from periods of uncertainty so, while permanent hiring might struggle, demand for temporary and contract supply may still prove buoyant.

The one thing we can be certain about at the moment is that there will be uncertainty!

Read more: Here's what Thursday's vote means for recruiters

Meanwhile, white collar workers hoping for a salary bump are likely out of luck, as Apsco discovered that median salaries among the firms it represents increased by just 0.9 per cent year-on-year.

Professionals are getting a raw deal compared with other workers, as Office for National Statistics figures for a similar period showed that average weekly wages grew by two per cent in the year to April, or by 2.3 per cent after stripping out bonuses.

Apsco is not the first organisation to note a slowdown in hiring ahead of the referendum. Earlier figures from recruiter Morgan McKinley found that the number of jobs on offer in London had slumped, with the firm pointing towards the uncertainty caused by the then-upcoming referendum as a major cause of many recruitment department's woes.

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