Hiring confidence remains steady despite threat of Omicron, research finds

REC poll reveals jump in demand for temporary labour, while overall confidence in the economy has fallen

Employer hiring confidence has remained strong despite the Omicron variant and a lack of overall business confidence, a survey of employers has found. 

​​The latest JobsOutlook survey, conducted by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), revealed that the majority of the 600 employers polled are intending to hire more workers. 

Its hiring confidence index – which subtracts the percentage of businesses that are not confident about making hiring decisions from the percentage that are – remained +9, indicating that more employers were hiring than not.

The poll also found that intentions to hire temporary workers in the short term increased by 15 percentage points to +30 while the demand for medium-term workers rose by nine percentage points to +23.

Meanwhile, hiring intentions for permanent staff remained at +19 in the short term and +20 in the medium term.

However, the REC’s index measuring overall confidence in the economy also fell by five percentage points to -11 between October and December 2021, indicating that more employers are not confident. This is the second consecutive period that this measure has been negative.

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In December, the survey found that a third (33 per cent) of UK employers anticipated that the disruption caused by Brexit would continue to present business challenges in 2022, while over a third (35 per cent) said that recruiting new staff would be a significant challenge.

According to Neil Carberry, chief executive of the REC, it is no surprise that business confidence in the economy began to fall at the end of 2021, after the Omicron variant wave reached its peak and inflation rose sharply. 

“Demand for temporary workers rose particularly strongly last month to help firms ride out the wave of staff absences and keep business going,” he said, adding that agency work helps keep the economy running, getting people into work more quickly and helping companies meet demand.

Commenting on the data, Jon Boys, labour market economist at the CIPD, echoed that the labour market was “job-seeker friendly” at the moment but added that employers need to work harder to attract and retain staff.

"Hiring temporary workers could be helpful to some employers looking to fill vacancies in the short term; however they should also look at offering better employment conditions to shore things up in the long term,” he said. 

This could include offering permanent contracts and the possibility of promotion and training opportunities, according to Boys. 

However, Danielle Oakley, operations manager in advice and consultancy at Peninsula, warned that firms need to tread carefully with what they do following the optimism towards the economy and hiring. 

“Confidence in hiring should be tempered with the practicalities of slow economic growth, and the urge to overcommit should be resisted,” she advised, adding that careful planning around hiring needs will help.