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UK businesses confident of growth but need employees with new skills

Matt Weston, Managing Director - Robert Half

The gradual lifting of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and opening of key sectors has left 86% of UK businesses feeling confident about growth prospects for H2 of 2021, according to the latest quarterly Demand for Skilled Talent report by recruitment specialist Robert Half.

Overall business confidence levels have increased by 10% compared to January 2021, with 28% of employers now saying they feel ‘very confident’ and over half (58%) are ‘somewhat confident’ of growth this year in the report which analyses trends in demand for specific talent.

The biggest factor standing in the way of growth is employers struggling to find employees with the right mix of skills, with the majority focused on reskilling and upskilling employees to meet evolving business needs and opportunities brought on by the pandemic. The most in demand employee skills for H2 2021 are hybrid skills (a combination of soft and technical), digital and data capabilities, change management and communication.

Additionally, almost half (47%) of workers feel more optimistic about career prospects now than they did 12 months ago, with research into the candidate market mirroring the confidence seen in employers.

The Special UK Report: Demand for Skilled Talent* was compiled using interview data sourced from 300 UK senior executives of various sized private and public organisations in April 2021. Worker data has been taken from online surveys conducted by Robert Half between April-May 2021.

Hiring trends for H2 2021
The business climate remains mixed, but the majority of managers surveyed indicated that the pandemic has created opportunities for expansion and growth, with new hiring demand being driven predominantly by manufacturing, retail, and logistics sectors as these sectors open up again.

Robert Half’s research shows a shift in the sectors driving hiring demand for the UK; pharmaceuticals and IT services sectors have dropped out of the top five in H2 compared to the first half of the year. 

The UK sectors driving demand for talent in the second half of 2021 are:

  1. Manufacturing
  2. Retail
  3. Logistics
  4. Financial Services
  5. Consultancy

UK cities championing the “anywhere office”
Hybrid workforces (where some employees work remotely, and others in the office) are now seen as a permanent way of working by many employers and workers alike.

In the UK, the top five cities demonstrating the most remote/hybrid work availability spanning finance, accounting, legal, office admin functions, marketing and tech roles (as a proportion of total job ads over the past 12 months) are: London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Bristol.

67 per cent of workers recently surveyed by Robert Half self-identify as a “homesteader” (working mainly from home); 23 per cent as an “office dweller”; and 8 per cent as a “coffee shop traveller” (preferring other locations to work). Earlier this year, Robert Half found that ‘Hybrid’ home/office working is now viewed as a permanent part of the employment landscape by 89% of managers.

Matt Weston, Managing Director of Robert Half, said: “Our newest employment market data shows a shift as we move into what we hope will be the latter stage of the pandemic cycle, and a return to a more confident and secure labour market for employees and employers alike. Businesses have been forced to expedite digitisation initiatives and have found a wealth of new growth opportunities through that evolution.

“As businesses continue towards growth and recovery, Robert Half has seen staffing concerns centre on reskilling and upskilling, which has driven demand for candidates with hybrid skills (26%) and digital skills (26%).

“That’s not to say the current climate hasn’t taken its toll on the UK’s workforce. Over a third (37%) of workers are suffering from burnout and low morale. To maximise future expansion opportunities, employers will need to support teams by continuing to offer remote and flexible working to bring work-life balance back into equilibrium.”

Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies, adds: “The pace of skill change globally continues to accelerate. Tech, digital and data handling skills continue to be in ever-increasing demand across all sectors. The development and use of hardware, software, e-commerce apps and cloud-based collaboration platforms, as examples, are no longer solely the preserve of dedicated IT departments as virtually all areas of business are becoming highly dependent on the use of technology in their day-to-day operations. From a business perspective, all managers need to foster a culture of constant learning for workers to remain agile, adaptable and sufficiently skilled in order to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation.”

*report from Robert Half report presented in association with Burning Glass

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