New data from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) collected between 2 March and 20 March shows that the coronavirus crisis hit employers hard in the first part of the UK slowdown to fight the virus.

The latest JobsOutlook report shows that employer confidence in the UK economy has dropped by 22 percentage points between February and March, from a net figure of -1 to -23. This was mainly driven by a dive in sentiment among small businesses in particular. Meanwhile confidence in hiring and investment decisions fell by 21 percentage points to net: -5.

Some employers have still been looking to bring on staff in the short term. Forecast demand for temporary agency workers has increased from net: -2 in February to net: +13 this month, as some key firms in supply chains looked to bring in flexible staff to deal with the fast-changing landscape at the onset of the crisis.

Short-term demand for permanent staff stayed positive at net: +17, but with big differences between sectors, with demand higher than average for technology workers (net: +25) and drivers (net: +22).

“It’s no surprise that this global pandemic has caused the UK’s labour market to stall,” says Neil Carberry, Chief Executive of the REC. “What we should remember is this hasn’t been caused by economic problems – it’s a deliberate choice that we’ve made to protect businesses and our fellow citizens. When the storm passes we will bounce back, and quickly.

“It has been great to see the government listen to us and others in taking bold measures to protect workers and businesses – but more needs to be done,” he added. “Employers need access to government support very quickly so staff can be paid without unnecessary hurdles. We must also make sure that flexible workers are not left in the lurch – they are a vital part of the labour market, and must not be forgotten in the government’s support packages.”

The Global Recruiter [news@theglobalrecruiter.com]