Further drop in permanent placements amid worsening demand for labour, according to latest jobs report

Sebastian Burnside (Chief Economist at Royal Bank of Scotland)

THE LATEST Royal Bank of Scotland Report on Jobs survey, compiled by S&P Global signalled a sustained deterioration in permanent staff placements across Scotland during March. Although the rate of decline eased from the month before, the number of people placed into permanent roles fell rapidly. Demand for both permanent and temp workers also deteriorated sharply and for the eighth successive month. Additionally, pressures on salaries and hourly wages were historically muted, the former recording the weakest increase in over three years.

Sustained downturn in permanent placements

Scottish recruiters recorded a fourth consecutive monthly fall in permanent staff appointments during March. The rate of contraction eased slightly from February’s 15-month high but remained rapid overall. According to respondents, the latest downturn was linked to fewer vacancies, companies looking to cost-cut and increased market uncertainty.

Permanent placements also fell at the UK level, although at a softer pace than that seen in Scotland.

Temp billings rose across Scotland during March. The respective seasonally adjusted index increased for the second straight month to post above the neutral 50.0 mark for the first time since last December. The rate of expansion was modest though and weaker than the average recorded over the series history.

Meanwhile, the downturn in temp billings across the UK as a whole continued into March and was the most pronounced since July 2020.

Sharp, albeit weaker decline in permanent staff supply

March data revealed a fall in permanent candidate availability in Scotland, thereby extending the current run of decrease to 38 months. Despite the rate of contraction easing to the weakest since mid-2023, it remained sharp overall.

In contrast, the supply of permanent staff expanded across the UK as a whole, the rate of growth ticking up to a four-month high.

A sixth successive monthly rise in temp candidate availability was recorded across Scotland during March. Recruiters linked the upturn to projects coming to an end, which helped free up labour. The rate of growth softened to a five-month low and was modest overall, however.

The rate of growth across the UK as a whole strengthened and outpaced that recorded for Scotland.

Starting salary growth moderates to 37-month low

Average starting salaries for permanent new joiners rose across Scotland in March. Labour shortages and increased bids to secure suitably-skilled candidates exerted upward pressure on pay, noted panellists. That said, the rate of inflation moderated notably to the weakest in just over three-years.

Salaries awarded to new permanent joiners also rose at a weaker pace across the UK as a whole. Moreover, the pace of inflation was softer than that recorded for Scotland.

The first quarter of the year ended with a further rise in temp wages across Scotland, thereby extending the current run of inflation that began in December 2020. While the rate of growth across Scotland trended above the UK-wide average, the increase was the weakest in six months and historically muted.

Sharp decline in permanent vacancies

Recruiters across Scotland recorded an eighth consecutive monthly fall in the number of permanent vacancies in March. Despite easing for the second straight month, the rate of decrease remained sharp and steeper than the UK-wide average.

Demand for permanent staff deteriorated across all the eight monitored sectors, with Hotel & Catering recording the fastest drop in permanent vacancies.

In line with the trend for permanent roles, temporary job vacancies in Scotland fell in March, thereby extending the current run of contraction to eight months. Similarly, the rate of decrease moderated, albeit continuing to signal a stronger fall in vacancies than at the UK level.  

Executive & Professional recorded the fastest drop in demand for short-term staff across the monitored sectors in March, followed by Hotel & Catering.

Sebastian Burnside, Chief Economist at Royal Bank of Scotland, commented:

“The Scottish labour market continued to exhibit weakness which has now existed for the most part of the last one-and-a-half years. Latest survey data highlighted that uncertainty regarding the outlook and firms looking to cut expenses impeded hiring activity. Additionally, demand for both permanent and short-term workers worsened for the eighth successive month, with recruiters recording fewer jobs available across Scotland.

“Meanwhile, though scarcity of suitably-skilled labour drove a further increase in permanent starting salaries during March, worsening hiring conditions meant pressures on pay eased. The rates of both starting salary and hourly wage inflation trended below their respective long-run averages.”

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