2021 mid-year snapshot: growth prospects and hiring trends

By Robert Half on 16th June 2021
  • New research has revealed that 86% of UK businesses feel ‘somewhat to very confident’ about growth prospects for the remainder of 2021
  • Managers anticipate growth due to opportunities created by the pandemic, but the overall business landscape remains mixed 
  • Reskilling is a primary staffing concern for businesses hoping to evolve and recover

A report from Robert Half has revealed that 86% of UK-based businesses are confident of business growth for the second half of 2021, thanks to the gradual lifting of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and opening of key sectors. 

The new data showed a 10% increase in optimism compared with survey results from January, whilst over a quarter (28%) of businesses feel ‘very confident’ in their potential for growth, and 58% are ‘somewhat confident’.

The biggest factor standing in the way of growth is employers struggling to find employees with the right mix of skills, with the majority focused on reskilling and upskilling employees to meet evolving business needs and opportunities brought on by the pandemic. The most in demand employee skills for H2 2021 are hybrid skills (a combination of soft and technical), digital and data capabilities, change management and communication.

Additionally, almost half (47%) of workers are more optimistic about career prospects now than they were 12 months ago, with research into the candidate market mirroring the confidence seen in employers. 

What’s influencing UK business confidence mid-2021? 

  1. Expanding business opportunities due to pandemic
  2. Current economic climate
  3. Reduced business opportunities due to pandemic

The business climate continues to remain mixed as we hit the mid-way mark of 2021. Despite this, employers have gained new confidence in their ability to exploit pandemic-driven business expansion opportunities, and it remains the primary influence on current confidence levels.

Tech is enabling growth

UK businesses are relying heavily on technology for competitive advantage and as a means of driving the business forward in the day-to-day according to our most recent data.

We saw this in early 2021 when nearly 1 in 3 (30%) employers said they were looking to technology and digital as a means of business growth for the year. Furthermore, according to our new data, just over a quarter of survey respondents (26%) are searching for digital or data skills in new hires to support this continuing initiative.

The shift to digital isn’t just a strategic move to maintain momentum during a time when consumer behaviour demanded an online presence from brands. In addition, the integration of more digital processes served to support remote work initiatives and helped ease the pressure of burnout on employees burdened with time-consuming manual tasks.

National hiring trends and in-demand roles for H2

The boom in eCommerce and a resurgence in global trade has seen a new set of sectors rise to the top of the hiring market in mid-2021. Businesses in manufacturing, retail, and logistics sectors are increasing headcount as demand skyrockets. This was supported by a 9.2% spike in retail sales when non-essential shops reopened.

Hybrid work opportunities remain strong across all main regions of the UK, with key cities like London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, and Bristol showing the most demand. The data reveals a strong requirement for data-driven roles, continuing the trend we saw in January.

Top 5 industries currently hiring

  1. Manufacturing
  2. Retail
  3. Logistics
  4. Financial Services
  5. Consultancy

Priority hires for the second half of 2021

For CIOs/CTOs For CFOs For General Hiring Managers

1. Cloud Engineers

2. Front-End Developers

3. Business Transformation Specialists

4. Database Administrators

5. Business Intelligence Specialists

1. Finance Analysts

2. Fund Managers

3. FP&A Analysts

4. Risk / Compliance specialists

5. Credit Managers

1. Business Managers

2. Office / Administration Managers

3. Sales Personnel

4. Project Managers

5. Customer Service Personnel

How will businesses maintain recovery efforts?

The future of work is built on a unique blend of soft skills and technical knowledge. Over a quarter of businesses (26%) are specifically hiring for this hybrid skillset so they can continue to support business digitisation. Digital/data management (26%), change management (26%) and communication (25%) are also showing strong signs of demand from UK employers in the current hiring climate.   

Reskilling and upskilling employees is one of the biggest staffing concerns for nearly one in four (23%) employers as we move into the second half of 2021. This concern matches the sentiment we hear from workers — over half (51%) are hoping to improve their digital skills this year and want hands-on training from management (43%). 

Robert Half understands that it takes time and effort to evaluate the best talent strategy for different businesses. For further independent advice to assist with your recruitment and workforce planning efforts, contact us

For the latest salary and benefits information here in the UK download our Salary Guide, containing information for more than 250 positions spanning Accounting, Finance, Technology, HR, and Administrative Support fields.

Read the full UK special report: Demand for Skilled Talent.

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