UK recruiters report slightly weaker demand for staff

LONDON (Reuters) - British recruiters reported a slowdown in their clients’ demand for staff during February, though pay rates and appetite for new workers continue to grow quickly.

FILE PHOTO - People cast long shadows in the winter sunlight as they walk accross a plaza in the Canary Wharf financial district of London, Britain, January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Overall demand for temporary and permanent staff rose at its slowest rate since December 2016 last month, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation said, echoing signs in official data that the sharp rise in the number of people in work in recent years may be beginning to level off.

Difficulty finding workers - at a time when fewer Europeans are keen to move to work in Britain in the run-up to Brexit - is one reason for the modest slowdown in hiring, REC chief executive Kevin Green said.

“Candidate availability is still dropping, which means that employers in all sectors are struggling to recruit for the roles they desperately need to fill,” Green said.

Official figures for the last three months of 2017 showed the number of people in work grew by half the amount that economists polled by Reuters had forecast, while unemployment edged up for the first time in almost two years.

The REC said nursing, medical and care staff were the most sought after temporary employees, as unusually snowy weather exacerbated a seasonal increase in demand. IT workers and engineers were the most-wanted permanent staff.

“Post-Brexit, we will continue to need people from the EU to work in UK institutions like the National Health Service, and this needs to be as easy as possible without unnecessary cost or bureaucracy,” Green said.

Salaries for new permanent staff and hourly rates for temporary workers both grew at above-average rates - though the REC data rarely translates swiftly into pay rises for existing permanent workers across the economy.

Official data showed pay rose at an annual rate of 2.5 percent in the final quarter of 2018, and the Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, said last month that he expected it to pick up to 3 percent soon.

Several BoE officials have said they would like to see wage growth pick up before they increase interest rates again, after raising them for the first rise in over a decade in November.

Writing by David Milliken, editing by Andy Bruce