Official data shows hiring intentions have cooled – but HR recruitment is on the up

Recruiters reveal people professionals are in demand despite ONS figures indicating a cooling-off period across the labour market

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Official data has revealed the number of current vacancies has experienced the largest quarterly fall since the pandemic, yet recruitment for HR is buoyant. 

The latest labour market data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed that vacancies fell by 46,000 between June and August 2022, and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.5 per cent – the lowest rate since 1974. 

But despite the overall labour market experiencing a cooling-off period, this is not the case for the HR sector, which is seemingly bucking the trend with unprecedented levels of vacancies and recruitment. 

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Jo Benelisha, director at Strictly Recruitment, noticed a “surge” in HR vacancies that showed no signs of slowing. “Many will have left the profession as a result of their experience during the pandemic, leading to record numbers of [HR professionals] seeking other career opportunities,” she explained. 

“This has led to an increase in demand for specialist talent in all [sub-sections of the people profession], particularly in DEI,” she said, attributing the spike to a fast-changing employee landscape that has resulted in fast-growing HR teams with increased workloads. 

But for Martin Drake, founder and chief talent finder at recruitment firm Higher People, the figures do not reflect what has happened with its HR hiring activity. “Hiring cooled earlier this year, but in the last month activity has returned to crazy levels, with a marked 100 per cent increase in HR vacancies,” said Drake.

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Karen Dyson, HR recruitment specialist at Resourcing4HR, agreed that there has been “no let up” in HR hiring activity, with the exception being hiring for internal talent acquisition roles, which have seen a “huge” drop. “At the start of the year, around a quarter of our vacancies were in talent acquisition – a huge increase on previous years – but now we have just one live vacancy,” she said.

However, she added that activity remained strong in all other roles in the people profession for the boutique recruiter, which hires for junior to mid-level roles. “The competition for talent remains strong with no signal of any downturn in the area we are operating in,” she said. 

Meanwhile, the latest Report on Jobs from KPMG and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation showed that, overall, vacancies had expanded at the end of Q3, but at their slowest rate since February 2021. The KPMG figures revealed that recruitment for both permanent and temporary staff, and the overall supply of labour, were currently at a 19-month low. 

While hiring intentions have slowed, employers are still looking to take on more staff, and may face challenges when doing so, said Chris Gray, director at ManpowerGroup UK. “We do expect a further cooling in the jobs market in the coming months, particularly in response to pressures from higher costs and business uncertainty,” he added.

This was echoed by Steven Atkins, global analytics enablement director at SplashBI, who attributed the slowing down of recruitment to economic uncertainty, as employers were “striving to be more tactical” in their recruiting efforts. 

Atkins added that this could explain the rise in HR demand. “Being more effective in skills adjacency and better upskilling initiatives is once again raising the profile of HR to meet internal employee expectations and external demand for talent,” he said. 

But David Morel, chief executive of Tiger Recruitment, predicted that the labour market would soon return to a normal level. “We will see a gentle easing of hiring, but we don’t expect vacancies to fall off a cliff,” he said.