Office workers sit tight as Brexit negotiations begin

White-collar workers are more reluctant to move jobs as the process of leaving the European Union begins, according to a survey of recruiters.

Availability of temporary staff declined in March at the fastest rate since January 2016 and also fell sharply for permanent staff, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation said.

Wariness about the jobs market is reflected in the behaviour of consumers. Retail sales fell at their fastest rate in nearly seven years in the three months to February, according to official figures.

“Economic uncertainty about future prospects is having a detrimental effect on employees’ willingness to risk a career move at this time, which seems to be driving down candidate availability,” Kevin Green, chief executive of the REC, said.

Staff shortages continued to push up the growth in starting salaries, although more slowly than in February, the confederation said. Information technology specialists and medical staff were among those workers most in demand.

Gertjan Vlieghe, a Bank of England rate-setter, said on Wednesday that slow wage growth in official data suggested that the economy could continue to grow without pushing up inflation, despite the unemployment rate falling to its lowest level since 2005.

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Sick days at lowest rate as fearful workers battle on

The number of days taken as sick leave has fallen to the lowest rate since records began, as staff struggle in to work through fear of losing their job.

About 137 million working days were lost to illness last year, equivalent to 4.3 days per worker, according to official figures. When records began in 1993 it was 7.2 days per worker.

The sickness absence rate — working hours lost to sickness as a percentage of total hours worked — now stands at 1.9 per cent compared with 3.1 per cent in 1993.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which compiled the figures, noted that the fall had been particularly dramatic since the economic downturn in 2007, suggesting that a lack of job security was a significant factor.

However, HR managers in the public and private sectors alike say that other changes have also had an impact. Many employers have introduced programmes to reduce sick days in recent years. For example, many insist that staff who are sick must speak in person to a manager on the phone rather than leave a message or email.

Perhaps even more significant is the rapid growth of working from home, they say, when staff who feel unwell will often carry out lighter duties rather than take a day off sick.

Frances O’Grady, general-secretary of the TUC, said that too many people were struggling in to work while suffering from colds or flu when they would be better off at home.

“We are really a nation of mucus troopers, with people more likely to go to work when ill than stay at home when well,” she said.

Research carried out by the TUC in the winter months found that half a million employees went to work despite feeling terrible because they did not like to let down their clients, colleagues or employer.

The rate of absenteeism in the public sector has fallen from a high of 4.3 per cent to 2.9 per cent, but it is still higher than the private sector’s rate of 1.7 per cent. Within the public sector, the health service had the highest rate of sickness, at 3.5 per cent.

Minor illnesses such as colds were the most common reason for missing work last year, accounting for 25 per cent of days, followed by musculoskeletal problems such as back pain, which accounted for 22.4 per cent.

Mental health problems including stress, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia resulted in 15.8 million days being lost — 11.5 per cent of the total. Stomach upsets accounted for 6.6 per cent and headaches and migraines 3.4 per cent.

Older workers take the most days off sick, with the rate among the over-65s being 2.9 per cent — higher than in 1993, when it was 2.7 per cent. They are followed by those aged 50 to 64, with a rate of 2.7 per cent, although this has fallen sharply since 1993 when it was 4.4 per cent. Those aged 25 to 34 take the fewest days off, with a rate of 1.5 per cent.

Employees have a higher rate of sickness absence than the self-employed. Last year it was 2.1 per cent for employees and 1.4 per cent for the self-employed. People in Wales and Scotland took the most time off for illness, while those in London and the southeast took the least, the ONS found.

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Low-paid are unaware of their rights

A poll carried out among low-paid workers by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy shows widespread ignorance of their financial rights.

The government is launching an advertising campaign to raise awareness, and the poll of more than 1,400 workers earning less than £15,000 a year found that 69 per cent did not know they should be paid for travel time between appointments.

In addition, 57 per cent did not know that having money taken out of their wages to pay for their uniforms was unlawful and almost half did not realise that the tips they are paid cannot be used to top up their pay to the legal minimum.

The campaign comes before the rise in the national minimum and national living wage rates on April 1.

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Plumber’s victory will affect ‘gig economy’

A ruling in favour of a self-employed worker claiming sickness benefit from Pimlico Plumbers could have far-reaching consequences for contractors including accountants and IT professionals, according to lawyers.

The Court of Appeal rejected an appeal by Pimlico on the employment status of the former plumber Gary Smith.

Lawyers said that the ruling, coming three months after a similar verdict against Uber and another case against Deliveroo, would also affect the burgeoning “gig economy”, where people supplement their income with part-time work.

It could have implications for “restrictive covenants” — contractual constraints on working for competitors — that are commonly applied to contractor accountants and IT specialists.

Sean Nesbitt, an employment partner at Taylor Wessing, the law firm, said: “A business like Pimlico cannot have its cake and eat it. If it wants to say someone is self-employed, their economic freedom and ability to compete are an important feature of that status.”

Charlie Mullins, founder of Pimlico Plumbers, said after the ruling that self-employed workers could earn twice as much as if they were directly employed.

The body representing self-employed workers welcomed the ruling.

Jordan Marshall, a policy manager at IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed, said: “What is clear is there’s a great deal of interest in gaining clarity on what it means to be self-employed and where does freelancing begin.”

The Road Haulage Association has been warning that “bogus self-employment” is a growing problem for the industry. Jack Semple, head of policy for the RHA, said: “We’re talking about substantial sums of taxpayers’ money being lost, a growing culture of non-compliance and an undermining of the employment rights of lorry drivers.”

The RHA has raised the matter with Revenue and Customs, which said in a last year that it was “concerned by increasing pressure on haulage operators to treat workers wrongly as self-employed, or to hire workers through their own companies in ways that are not compliant with tax laws.”

Self-employment has grown from 3.8 million in 2008 to 4.6 million. The growth was strongest in part-time self-employment, which rose by 88 per cent between 2001 and 2015.

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Top employers to take on more graduates

Britain’s largest graduate employers plan to expand their recruitment of university leavers this year in a further sign of confidence in the economy.

The top 100 graduate recruiters are seeking to hire 20,985 to their management programmes, 868 (4.3 per cent) more than last year.

It will be the fifth consecutive year that leading employers have expanded their graduate programmes and is good news for students, who have become increasingly focused on their career prospects since university tuition fees trebled to £9,000 a year in 2012. The graduate recruitment market contracted sharply after the financial crisis in 2008, falling by 6.7 per cent, and dipped again in 2012 but has increased steadily since.

This year’s projected rise is the largest for four years and suggests that uncertainly over Brexit has not hit confidence.

Public sector employers; high street and online retailers; and engineering and industrial companies are among those preparing to hire more graduates in the coming year. Six organisations plan to increase their graduate programmes by more than 100 recruits.

The figures are based on a survey of the 100 best-known graduate recruiters by High Fliers Research, which found that a minority of employers are also increasing their starting salaries for graduates, although the average figure remains at £30,000 a year.

Law firms, who pay the second highest starting salaries to new graduates, are increasing their pay by an average of £1,000 a year, to £43,000.

Retailers are accompanying their expansion with higher pay, raising average starting salaries by £1,000 to £30,000, although Aldi, one of the most generous, plans to pay its trainee area managers £42,000 a year.

Oil and gas companies are also increasing their new graduates’ pay by £1,000 to an average of £38,000, although this sector is much smaller with only 160 graduate vacancies compared with thousands that are offered by accountancy and professional services firms.

Employers in the engineering and industrial sector, where pay tends to be significantly lower, are raising their starting salary by £500 to an average of £26,500.

The graduate recruitment market has been complicated in the past two years by students turning down jobs at the last minute to accept a better paid or more attractive offer. It has prompted calls among employers to revive a student code whereby applicants must withdraw other job applications once they have accepted an offer.

Some employers say they may be forced to scale back their investment in graduate training programmes if the trend continues, although there has been so sign of this yet.

The survey found that last year 800 positions on graduate programmes were left unfilled after applicants reneged on offers late in the process despite having previously accepted them. Public sector employers and accounting and professional services firms were hit the hardest.

The practice is also a symptom, however, of a trend among employers to make job offers earlier, owing to competition among recruiters to hire the best candidates. This includes offering positions to students who undertake internships in the summer vacation of their second year at university.

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Bosses track you night and day with wearable gadgets

Companies are fitting thousands of their staff with body-worn tracker devices that check how much sleep they have, how well they work with colleagues and even monitor their body language, tone of voice or emotions – often for 24 hours a day.

Supporters of the revolution in “workplace wearables” say it is creating a more productive “augmented human being”, but privacy campaigners say it is leading to a “Big Brother” society.

Employees of at least four British companies, including a major high street bank, are already carrying “sociometric badges”. The credit card-sized badges are worn around the neck and include a microphone for real-time voice analysis, a device that tracks the wearer around the workplace, a Bluetooth sensor to scan for proximity to others and an accelerometer to check physical activity. Monitoring employees’ phone calls and emails provides further data.

As an illustration of the sort of “body analytics” obtained, a hypothetical employee named Julian would be seen as active because he walks to work, but spends too much time sitting down in the office, which is a longer-term health risk. He interrupts colleagues a lot when talking; they often avoid sitting with him at lunch.

His brain pattern shows above-average stress when meeting a deadline but he has “used the monitoring devices consistently, so is considered conscientious”. He sleeps seven hours, a healthy amount, but goes to bed too late, with the biodata showing he is “not optimised” for early-morning meetings.

“By mining the data, you can actually get very detailed information on how people are communicating,” said Ben Waber, chief executive of Humanyze, which makes the badges. “It can show how physiologically aroused people are, and can make predictions about how productive and happy they are at work.”

The effect of fitness challenges is quite high — people suddenly get shamed into not taking the lift.

Waber said the tone, not the content, of conversations was recorded and only individuals got the full suite of data about themselves. Companies saw “aggregated” data on whether teams were working together effectively. Individuals had to consent to wearing the badges and 90% did, he said.

The badges are understood to be used by the consulting firm Deloitte and parts of the NHS. Waber declined to name the bank. Lloyds, HSBC, Santander and NatWest/RBS said they were not working with Humanyze. Barclays did not respond.

Chris Brauer, director of innovation at Goldsmiths, University of London, said a leading UK retailer was using the badges to train staff in “mirroring” — copying a customer’s physical mannerisms in order to build rapport. The devices monitored shopworkers’ body language and boosted sales.

In a project run by Brauer, 40 staff of the Mindshare media agency were fitted with the Lumo Back posture device, which sends a pulse to remind wearers to sit up straight, and the NeuroSky portable EEG headband, which measures brain activity and emotions. Construction and haulage companies, including Crossrail, have used EEG headgear to monitor employees for drunkenness or fatigue.

The 850 staff of Punter Southall, an actuarial and pensions consultancy, are among thousands of employees given wearable fitness trackers to monitor their physical activity and sleep patterns.

A director, John Dean, said: “We do fitness challenges once or twice a year. The effect is quite high — people suddenly get shamed into not taking the lift. They wear it 24/7 and the employer can see the data.

“We wouldn’t use them to monitor employees, although if they don’t walk very much you could potentially bring that up.” Usage was voluntary but 75%-80% of staff took part.

Brauer said the next development would be “biometric CVs”, with job applicants required to present evidence from monitoring to show they are biometrically qualified.

“The basic premise we’re working from is the augmented human being,” he said. “That will be the optimal productivity unit in the workforce.”

However, Renate Samson, chief executive of Big Brother Watch, said the devices risked turning humans into robots.“It is unacceptable for businesses to discriminate against staff based on the monitoring and tracking of their personality, fitness and out-of-work lifestyle,” he said.

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Find out the gender pay gap for your job

This interactive tool allows you to find out the gender pay gaps and average earnings in a wide range of jobs. It also shows how many women and men work in each role.

At 18.1%, the gap in average pay between men and women, for all employees, is the lowest since records began.

The gender pay gap does not show differences in rate of pay for comparable jobs.

The underlying causes are more complex and may include:

  • more women work in lower paid jobs or sectors.
  • women are more likely to work part-time, which can mean a lower rate of pay.
  • women are under-represented in senior roles. This may be due to stereotypical attitudes about gender roles, lack of flexible working or women taking time to look after their family.

So what is the gender pay gap for your job?

Click Here to find out!

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Will a robot take over your job?

Fear of technology taking our jobs runs deep. As long ago as 1589, Elizabeth I denied a patent to a newfangled knitting machine, saying: “Consider thou what the invention could do to my poor subjects. It would assuredly bring to them ruin by depriving them of employment, thus making them beggars.”

The threat today is from artificial intelligence, the technology allowing robots and computers to take on sophisticated tasks in fields including law and accounting. Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, has warned of a “hollowing out of many middle-class services jobs through machine learning and global sourcing”, putting 15 million Britons out of work. “Alongside its great benefits, every technological revolution mercilessly destroys jobs and livelihoods . . . well before the new ones emerge,” he added.

It’s a scary picture, brought home by the announcement from Capita, the outsourcing company, that 2,000 of its staff are to lose their jobs and be replaced by robots. These workers will gain little comfort from economists who say that trends suggest that more jobs will be created in the sophisticated economy than are lost to machines.

While technology contributed to the loss of about 800,000 lower-skilled jobs between 2001 and 2015, it helped to create 3.5 million higher-skilled jobs in their place, according to Deloitte. Each of these paid £10,000 more per year than the jobs lost, adding £140 billion to the economy through increased wages. Many men who have lost jobs in manufacturing have moved into project management, and women who lost secretarial jobs moved into social care, the company says.

Angus Knowles-Cutler, vice-chairman of Deloitte, is optimistic that this trend will continue.

As examples of the direction of things, the Amazon Go grocery store doesn’t have checkouts or cashiers but does employ chefs to make sandwiches and salads. A care home might employ robots to lift patients but could invest the money saved to recruit specialists to cut their hair or perform physiotherapy.

Some jobs, however, are more at risk than others.

Admin and call centres

The number of personal assistant and secretarial jobs has halved since the start of the millennium and those left are at high risk from automation, according to analysts. The most skilled assistants will survive because chief executives will still want human expertise but more middle managers will make do with machines.

More than a million people work in call centres and they’re often in areas that suffered big job losses from industrial decline. These jobs are now at risk from robotic systems that can answer questions and deal with everyday issues, but Mr Knowles-Cutler said that many workers were likely to be kept on to deal with more complex customer-service problems.

Factory workers who have gone through decades of insecurity as a result of automation and overseas competition will be hit by more of the same. “Lights-out” automated factories overseen by a handful of technicians are the norm in parts of Asia. Sixteen per cent of UK companies plan to buy fully autonomous production-line robots in the next five years and more are investing in semi-autonomous technology. There should be some respite for workers, however, because of a skills shortage.

Amazon has unveiled a store in Seattle where customers walk in, take what they want from the shelves and walk out. Sensors monitor their purchases and bill their online account. Although self-checkouts have already done away with some cashiers’ jobs, this goes to another level, and analysts say that roles such as shelf-stackers will go too. New roles will include shop-floor “greeters” and more staff making fresh food.

In the longer run, some believe that most bricks and mortar stores will become obsolete as drone deliveries make e-shopping even easier.

If driverless cars and lorries become standard in the next ten years, many driving jobs would be lost. Haulage companies are sceptical, however, with many saying that fully automated lorries are more suited to the long, relatively empty roads of the US and Australia than Britain’s congested motorways.


Automated milking machines have been common since the 1990s and the next generation of technology could enable arable crops to be monitored and harvested using autonomous tractors and combine harvesters. Staff at Harper Adams University in Shropshire are working on farming cereal crops without setting foot in the field, and technology start-ups are working hard to automate fruit-picking. This will mean job losses for some labourers and seasonal workers. Optimists believe that some of those who are displaced will move into new roles as farms diversify, processing produce for a farm café or shop.

Almost 40 per cent of legal jobs are at risk from automation, Deloitte says, with machines able to tackle many clerical tasks, and firms are investing in artificial-intelligence technology. Intelligent searches can already outperform junior lawyers in reviewing documents and selecting the most relevant for a case. Low-level tasks can also be outsourced to countries such as India.

Since 2001, technology has contributed to the loss of 31,000 jobs in the profession but there has been an overall increase of about 80,000, most of which are higher-skilled, better-paid jobs such as barristers and solicitors. The big losers have been secretaries and paralegals, and some firms have cut training contracts. finance Two thirds of staff in “branch-heavy” retail banks do jobs that could be automated, Citi forecasts. The extent to which machines have taken over was demonstrated in October when automated trading systems were blamed for the flash crash in the value of the pound.

In accountancy, machines can read company documents to flag anomalies for accountants to focus on. It’s debatable whether the total number of workers in financial services will fall, because the quantity of financial data will keep accountancy companies busy.

Staffing still accounts for half of the operating costs of big hotel chains and the industry is constantly looking for efficiencies, so check-in kiosks and gadgets making guests coffee will proliferate. However, bosses stress that the strength of the industry can be maintained only with human skills. Companies in Japan have already ditched robot waiters.

The industry says it’s short-staffed in any case.

Health and social care

Deloitte’s research has found that 1.35 million jobs — 28 per cent of the workforce — have a high chance of being automated in the next 20 years. However, almost half (2.25 million) are at low risk, meaning that this has the highest number of “safe” jobs of all sectors.

Care work remains the fastest-growing occupation and experts agree that robots won’t have the skills and qualities to look after people properly. They will, however, be getting involved. Care homes near the University of Lincoln have tested robot assistants that monitor residents round the clock, giving an extra layer of supervision. In Japan “robears” have helped residents to stand up or lifted them from bed into wheelchairs, sparing workers’ backs.

The biggest technology companies haven’t employed that many people but those in tech roles across different sectors are extremely well placed. We will need workers to make and maintain all those new robots and artificial intelligence systems. In terms of IT, employers put digital skills at the top of their list of requirements, ahead of management skills — and the threat from cyberattacks means that security will be a growth industry.

Creative industries
Technology can’t replicate the human creativity needed in architecture, advertising and graphic design, although it can cut the amount of “grunt work” needed.

Nigel Gwilliam, of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, said: “Many aspects of advertising are already technology-dependent and would actually benefit from further automation. In many respects we have too much data, too much media and too many options for people to handle on their own. As well as copywriters, we now employ data scientists.”

This is the safest sector. The country will need lots of well-educated people to fill higher-level roles, economists forecast, and no one believes robots can take the place of teachers and lecturers, even if automated online courses can supplement personalised tuition. However, no one noticed when a robot replaced a teaching assistant at one US university this year and answered students’ questions.

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Job vacancies increase as staff shortages lift pay

The jobs market has “ended the year on a high”, with employment and wages strengthening despite fears of a post-Brexit slowdown, according to a key survey.

Companies increased their permanent staff headcount in November at the fastest pace since February and starting salaries rose to a six-month high, according to a monthly report from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation and Markit.

The number of job vacancies also edged higher as the survey found that fewer people were available to fill the roles being created, suggesting that companies may have to increase pay offers to compete for staff.

The findings, which are more timely than official data but not as comprehensive, defy predictions of a pick-up in unemployment and a hit to wages that underpinned forecasts for an economic slowdown by the Bank of England and the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Kevin Green, chief executive of the confederation, which represents the UK’s recruitment industry, said: “The jobs market is ending the year on a high, with appointments and vacancies at levels not seen since February. In all parts of the UK, recruiters are reporting increasing demand, so clearly businesses continue to seek growth in their workforces.”

The labour market has shown little sign of a slump since the Brexit vote. Employment is at a record high and unemployment at an 11-year low at 4.8 per cent. However, the official data has pointed to a slowing in recruitment in recent months.

Mr Green said that the main concern for 2017 appeared to be “an increasing skills shortage”, which typically would suggest that pay would rise.

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Downtown Recruitment celebrates 30 years in business!!

Downtown Recruitment is celebrating 30 years in business in Thame, Oxfordshire. In November 1986 Suzanne Young started the business. She saw a gap in the market in the local Thame and surrounding area and was confident she could fill it. This proved to be the case and Downtown quickly became the leading Thame recruitment agency. Suzanne’s son Steve Young joined the business in February 1997 and has been running the company successfully for over 15 years.

Downtown Recruitment is proud to have retained many of its employees. The three current recruitment consultants have a combined service of almost 40 years with the company.

Over the last 30 years, the recruitment industry has seen many changes and has grown rapidly. When Suzanne originally started the business everything was record card based. This was eventually replaced by a database and then specialist recruitment software to help in all areas of the recruitment process. The original local newspaper advertising has now been taken online through the many online jobs boards. Downtown Recruitment still has a large database of locally sourced candidates that contact the company whenever they are looking for a new job.

Over the years, the company has dealt with numerous local businesses and helped to place over 3000 people into permanent roles and around 5000 people into temporary work placements, helping to put more than £60 million into the local economy.

The local employment market has been strong since 2011 (after the last financial crisis) and unemployment levels in the local area are currently around 0.4% compared to the national level of 4.8% in November 2016.

Due to Thame’s proximity to London, many people commute to work. However, there is a strong local employment market. This has led to a skills shortage in some sectors. Due to Thame’s ever increasing popularity as a market town, the population has been growing. This is mainly due to the many new homes that have been built in recent years and many more that are currently under construction, bringing in more potential employees to the local area. In addition, there has been a steady stream of new business units being built in Thame, Long Crendon and other parts of the local area, bringing in more local businesses and helping to stimulate the strong local economy even further.

Managing Director Steve Young commented:”Downtown Recruitment looks forward to continuing to support the local economy through our continued business success and to working with many local companies. We also look forward to finding interesting roles for new job candidates and the returning candidates that we have previously found work for.”

Downtown Recruitment website: uk
For further comment, call Steve Young on: 01844 212666.

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