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High tech troubleshooters: a gig economy for professionals?

The digital transformation of work is being powered by temporary staff. Are we seeing the emergence of a gig economy for professional troubleshooters with highly marketable skills?

ONS employment data reveals the extent of the squeeze on the UK’s hiring sector.

Job board activity is plummeting over the last year. Does this mean bad tidings for the recruitment sector? Or are employers growing too impatient to sit back and wait for responses to their listed vacancies?

Contractor opportunities continue to rise

More than one in four UK businesses are poised to make temporary or contract hires in the next twelve months, a new study has found.

The Robert Half 2018 Salary Guide has learned that as many as 1.6 million businesses in the United Kingdom plan to expand staffing with non-permanent placements. The findings have led some to believe that a gig economy for skilled professionals is starting to emerge in the British jobs market.

38 per cent of enterprises name digital readiness initiatives as the primary force for the changing workplace. The digital transformation is placing higher demand on a new set of skills. Data management and analytics, DevOps, and data visualisation are among the most sought after skills in a heated jobs market.

Soft skills like adaptability and critical thinking remain high on employers’ shopping list of talents. But a growing portion (31 per cent) of companies now name technical prowess as the most important factor in any new hire.

A symptom of digital readiness

Over half (53 per cent) of the chief executives polled by Robert Half voiced concerns over a digital skills shortage in Britain. Fields like artificial intelligence and automation are now valuable to every sector. However, estimates suggest a 40,000 shortfall in qualified workers within the UK jobs market. It has led to enterprises taking on skills wherever they can find them. Increasingly, this is in the shape of short-term, temporary “troubleshooters”.

38 per cent of the surveyed firms reported that they already had at least one digital contractor in their team. An extra 28 per cent said they were planning to hire contract staff in the course of the next year.

However, there is evidence to suggest that companies would prefer to keep talent on a long-term basis. 32 per cent of firms said they saw their temporary digital experts as stop-gap solutions between permanent hires.

Robert Half director Matt Weston commented on the report.

“UK businesses are increasingly turning to flexible recruitment strategies as a key solution to filling skills gaps within their organisation, as they invest in upskilling their current workforce and find permanent staff with the right blend of capabilities.

“In the interim, access to an immediate pool of specialist talent prevents costly project delays and helps businesses realise their potential and compete in an increasingly digital world.”

ONS Employment data: August-October

This week, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its employment and jobs market data for August to October 2018.

The official government data reports the highest total number of vacancies since comparable records began, in 2001. The total number of unfilled positions currently stands at approximately 845,000. That represents a 14,000 rise on the previous quarter. There are approximately 44,000 more unfilled posts than the same period a year earlier.

With the unemployment rate stabilizing at 4.1 per cent, there are currently 1.38 million unemployed people – compared with 32.41 million people in work. The number of working age adults currently employed has leapt by 350,000 in the past twelve months.

The ONS figures expose a continued squeeze on the UK’s existing talent pool. The fall in available skills has been compounded by the threat of Brexit, with 132,000 fewer EU nationals in the market. This equates to 2.25 million European nationals working in Britain today – the largest single-year fall since 1997.

But the growing influence of a “Global Britain” could also be in evidence from the data. The non-EU foreign workforce actually expanded by 34,000 to 1.24 million, in the last year.

Advice for recruiters

Tom Hadley, the director of policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) offered his advice to recruiters.

“Employers across many sectors are continuing to experience fundamental challenges in finding the staff and skills that they need. We already have record numbers of vacancies, and the signs are that these skills shortages will further intensify over the next few months as EU workers no longer find the UK an attractive place to work.

“UK businesses will need to work with recruitment partners to innovate and review current hiring strategies.”

The latest ONS figures offer a picture of mixed fortunes for recruiters. On the one hand, the market is increasingly tight. On the other, recruiters who remain able to deliver outcomes to clients will only increase their value. You can read the full ONS report here.

Are jobs boards becoming a ghost town?

Meanwhile, traditional recruitment could be impacted by a “cooling off” period, according to UK jobs board search engine Adzuna.

Assessing the user data from its own service, Adzuna has observed a sudden decline in the number of new jobs posted in recent months. The service has seen usage of its job board tumble 3.1 per cent over the last twelve months.

How does this data fit into the wider picture? Perhaps Adzuna’s data is merely a symptom of a broader slowdown in the jobs market. A lack of interest in hiring – and falling interest in skills acquisition – would certainly explain the falling job board activity.

But this does not really tally with the evidence that this week’s other top news stories have provided.

Changing trends in how we recruit?

Just as plausible, however, is the explanation that perhaps hires are increasingly taking place away from the traditional advertised listings. In this scenario, businesses are going directly to the source of requisite skills. It means the Adzuna data is reporting not so much on the overall health of hiring, but on the falling influence of public jobs boards in the skills acquisition process.

The data would certainly back this reading of the data. ONS figures released this week saw vacancies soaring, again. We have already read about business clamouring for digital skills. Yet Adzuna found that advertised salaries have fallen for five consecutive months. Considered together, this would suggest that public jobs boards are increasingly being used only as a last port of call for lower value positions. High demand skills are being snapped up by talent managers, recruiters and employers before they have even entered the “open” jobs market.

With skills in short supply, businesses are having to learn new ways to directly attract talent. Some are relying on old fashioned networks. Others use social media to make their brand more appealing to candidates. but they are also learning that they cannot wait passively for talent to respond to a jobs board listing.

If there is an emerging trend that sees a move away from jobs boards, to a more “over the counter” model of recruitment, it will allow well-connected agencies to grow in both value and influence.

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