This January has seen an increase of over a quarter in new job vacancies across professional services – compared to December.
However, January 2024 is -20% down on January 2023 – influenced by the impact of high inflation, continued layoffs as a result of post-pandemic over-hiring, financial sector turmoil and ongoing geo-political conflict.
The new data comes from data analytics company Vacancysoft and specialist recruitment firm Robert Walters – and shows that despite some sectors slumping and various external factors – signs of recovery remain for jobs in professional services.
Despite a lukewarm start to the year, in comparison to pre-pandemic numbers the hiring market is showing signs of bouncing back with +25,000 new jobs posted online, across professional services this January – an increase of +7% from January 2019.
James Chaplin – CEO of Vacancysoft, said, “After the volatility of the pandemic period, 2023 reverted to the mean and even ended up beating 2019 in terms of the annual totals, by a significant amount.
“Our forecast is for 2024 to exceed 2023 but by only a small amount probably as recruitment slows down come election time.”
Accountancy was one of the hardest hit sectors in 2023 for vacancy activity – with many of the Big Four announcing pay-freezes or job cuts. January hiring for this year is down -40.8% on the 5 year average between 2019-23.
In total, this January saw vacancies posted by KPMG, EY, Deloitte and PwC down by almost three-quarters (74.9%) compared to January 2023.
Not only that, but side effects from the pandemic saw a skills crisis ensue in 2022 which led to not only a decline in skilled candidates but firms having to turn away work due to the skills gap.
Chris Eldridge, CEO of Robert Walters UK said, “The skills-shortage of 2022 led to a talent scarcity which meant many accountancy firms were ramping up their hiring to compete for in-demand talent. However, the tide changed in 2023 – as demand for many services dwindled accountancy firms, including the Big 4 – had to start cutting back.
“The numbers we are seeing at the moment are in no way representative of the sector as a whole – instead they reflect companies looking internally, promoting and training from within, rather than adding to their headcounts in the wake of such a tumultuous year.”
Tech hiring was dealt some major blows in 2023, which the sector is still recouping from. Pandemic over-hiring – resulting in mass lay-offs – and diminished VC funding for tech start-ups have all had considerable effect on hiring within the sector.
Despite this there are still key skillsets in demand: information security, software engineer (+2% YoY) and data scientist roles (+6% YoY) are all still in-demand – especially within financial disciplines.
Chris said, “During the pandemic the technology industry experienced such exponential growth that it’s post-pandemic fall was almost written in the stars. Though the industry is still recovering from this, there are key areas of predicted growth in 2024 – AI and automation, information security and cyber-security – are all areas which show definite promise.”
Banking and financial services
Hiring within banking and financial services has stayed resilient, on the one hand, due to its integration of tech – in both Fintech and generative AI & Automation to enhance customer experience and on the other, through London’s continued attractiveness as a hotspot to international financial services firms.
According to Robert Walters’ 2024 salary survey, in-demand operational roles in the sector are still commanding considerable salaries – with Investment Analysts working at AVP / Associate level and Associate Level Regulatory Reporting roles seeing annual earnings of £110k and £90k respectively.
He said, “Whilst the banking industry has remained steadfast so far, it isn’t immune to cuts. Reports of surges in recent taxes companies paid to the government threaten to reduce competitiveness in the industry – so its important firms remain calculated in their hiring plans.”
The pandemic led to a lack of new talent entering the market between 2021-22, resulting in hefty salaries being dealt to entry level legal positions. Now the dust has settled on this bottleneck and firms are having to implement cost-cutting strategies.
In January, news came of City law firms requested employees either agree to reduced hours or voluntary pay cuts to avoid layoffs in the wake of a work slowdown.
On the flip side, regulatory law is one of the most in-demand specialisms in 2024 – with roles in regulatory compliance in legal up +30% over the last year.
Not only that, AI skills in legal have seen a +137% rise in UK professionals over the last year – this is only predicted to increase further and hiring demand remains very high. Whilst cybersecurity skillsets are also up +47% on last year.
Chris said, “The legal market has held onto its resilience, especially within regulatory specialisms due to the numerous regulatory bills and new policies being implemented in 2024.
“AI and cybersecurity have also been tipped as a key skills for legal professionals in 2024 as companies continue to implement AI applications and iron out the crinkles like liability issues, intellectual property cases.”
Risk, compliance & financial crime
With many new regulations and policies set to come into effect across 2024 this industry is set to become very busy – especially positions within compliance and risk law, where hiring demand is extremely high.
From the rise of GenAI, stricter financial crime regulation to cryptocurrency, rises in digital fraud and cybersecurity/cyber-crime risks – a host of factors contribute to this sectors’ ability to stay buoyant.
Chris said, “The digitisation of the finance sector, as well as the rise in GenAI and crypto has had a significant impact on the need for risk and compliance professionals – this is something that will only increase throughout the year.
“Coming off-the-back of what was a record year for hiring in 2022, last year proved a notoriously difficult year – with hiring for the year down -32.45% compared to 2019, pre-pandemic levels.
“Though we aren’t completely out of the clear yet – January 2024 is down -15.6% compared to the previous 5-year averages – we can safely say that there is a much more positive outlook. The number of jobs being advertised online remains conservative – this isn’t indicative of the internal work, hiring and training many companies are currently doing.
“Not only that, but we are already seeing the green shoots of growth with many sectors in professional services retaining resilient vacancies within in-demand specialisms.”