Permanent placements and temp billings expanded at the quickest rates for three and four months, respectively. Although softening since November, growth of both permanent and short-term vacancies was also robust.
The downturn in candidate availability meanwhile eased, with the supply of both temporary and permanent staff falling at the softest rates since April.
However, ongoing shortages contributed to an unprecedented rise in starting salaries and the joint-quickest increase in temp pay in over 24 years of data collection.
Permanent placement growth improves to three-month high
Recruitment consultancies based in the South of England signalled a tenth successive monthly increase in the number of people placed into permanent roles in December.
The rate of expansion was the sharpest seen for three months, albeit slightly weaker than the UK-wide trend. Where higher permanent staff appointments were recorded, it was often linked to robust demand for staff and increased activity at clients.
The seasonally adjusted Temporary Billings Index signalled a further increase in billings received from the employment of temp staff across the South of England in December.
Notably, the rate of growth was the quickest seen since August. The upturn was also slightly quicker than that seen across the UK as a whole. Anecdotal evidence indicated that greater efforts to fill vacancies, and in some cases a lack of permanent candidates, had boosted billings at the end of the year.
Demand for permanent workers across the South of England rose for the eleventh month running in December. The rate of growth remained historically sharp, despite easing to the slowest since April. The increase was also faster than the UK-wide trend.
Temporary staff vacancies also rose markedly across the region at the end of the year. The expansion was the least marked since April, however, and slightly weaker than that seen across the UK as a whole.
Permanent candidate supply falls at slowest rate since April
December survey data pointed to a sustained drop in the availability of permanent workers across the South of England, thereby stretching the current period of decline to ten months.
The latest drop was linked by recruiters to a generally low unemployment rate, uncertainty around the pandemic and strong demand for workers. Though sharp and much steeper than the series average, the rate of reduction was the least marked since April.
Regional data highlighted that the fall was broad-based, although all four monitored English regions recorded a softer decrease than compared to the previous month.
The rate of deterioration in temporary candidate supply across the South of England eased for the second month running in December. Though rapid and quicker than the UK-wide trend, the fall was the softest seen since April.
The availability of short-term staff across the region has now deteriorated continuously since March.
Reports from panel members indicated that fewer foreign workers, increased competition for staff and hesitancy among people to seek new roles amid Covid-19 uncertainty had weighed on temp candidate supply.
Sharpest increase in starting salaries on record
As has been the case since March, salaries awarded to new permanent joiners in the South of England rose in December. Furthermore, the rate of inflation accelerated to hit a fresh survey peak for the sixth month running.
The upturn in starting salaries was also the fastest seen of all four monitored English regions.
Survey respondents frequently mentioned that a marked imbalance between the supply and demand for staff had driven a further rise in salaries at the end of the year.
Hourly rates of pay for short-term staff across the South of England rose for the thirteenth month running in December.
The rate of wage inflation picked up for the first time in three months, and was the joint-quickest on record (on par with September 2021).
The South of England also noted the steepest increase in temp pay of all four monitored English regions. Higher rates of pay were widely linked by recruiters to efforts to attract applicants, skills shortages and IR35.