Just over five years ago I was in the process of setting up Be-IT. One of the key indicators that I was closely monitoring was the state of the economy, bearing in mind that five years ago we were still coming out of the Great Recession.
Deciding when to start a new company is not just a question of augury (examining animal entrails is frowned upon nowadays) combined with a slice of luck and a dose of investment. The uptick in the economy back in 2013 was such that I knew it was the right time, and the fact that we’re still here, five years later, suggests, I hope, that I may have been right.
That said, a lot has changed in the world of IT recruitment since then. Underpinning everything is, of course, that same UK economy, with its swings and arrows of outrageous (mis)fortune*. However, overall, even allowing for the political machinations, referendums, tax changes, GDPR et al, things are still remarkably, if not strangely, stable and in many ways improved, at least as far as IT and the digital recruitment world is concerned.
Despite that improvement, reflected in the growth not just of our recruitment business but most other well-organised IT recruiters, there have been a number of key developments, especially the aforementioned political issues that have cropped up since 2013, and these have had, and increasingly will continue to have, a major impact on our markets.
Identifying these changes, analysing their effects and deciding how to respond have been critical for all businesses and we’ve seen a lot of our clients, some of which are entrepreneurial start-ups, make both good and bad decisions over this period. From our perspective at Be-IT, this has resulted in our changing our focus over this time, to the extent that we now work across 12 specific sectors, ranging from government to financial services and logistics to AI.
The most important of the changes over the last half-decade, largely because it is the root cause of much of the rest, is the growth of the numbers of self-employed. From 2008, when the first stirrings of the Great Recession began to be felt, to March 2017, self-employment accounted for about one third of total employment growth (see ONS graph below). The percentage of the workforce working for themselves is now over 15.1% (4.8 million people). Moreover, when you ask school-leavers what career they want to go into, the percentage of those who want to be their own boss has increased massively in recent years.
One of the consequences of this is that, as a result of Brexit, the overrun on the austerity deployed to close the national deficit, the continuing challenges of the NHS and the current near stasis of productivity as a whole, the government needs more money to fund everything it needs to do if wants to be retain power at the next general election. And the self-employed have generally paid less tax than the employed…
As a result, we have had the Chancellor’s abortive attempt to increase NI for the self-employed (this will return I suspect), the Taylor Review, IR35 and the current debate on whether to have a special tax just to fund the NHS. On top of those we’ve had the joy that is GDPR, which some think seems to have been specially designed to hurt SMEs while leaving the mega-companies unhindered! From an IT recruiters’ viewpoint, GDPR has at least led to a demand for GDPR contractors and it has certainly forced us to re-examine how we structure and use our own data; something that is vital in the recruitment industry where a high quality database of engaged candidates is worth its weight in gold.
Nonetheless, while I acknowledge that, as a result of the overwhelming growth in the amount and value of data held on computers across the world, GDPR is an understandable and necessary measure, it may be too little too late as the increase in the number and sophistication of devices (IoT anyone?) has also been one of the key changes of the last five years, bringing with it a concomitant increase in individual and company vulnerability to cyber-crime.
IR35: Coming Soon
Of all the thorns in our side in the last five years, IR35 has been probably the most annoying. It was bad enough when it only applied to the public sector, but with the inevitability of its extension to the private sector, probably in 2020 I believe, we’ll have yet another layer of bureaucracy creating unnecessary jitters in the employment market as a whole. In my opinion, the roll-out of IR35 into the public sector has definitely slowed growth in employment in that market and I would expect the same to happen when it’s extended to the private sector. We need to learn our lessons from the public sector and prepare to minimise the disruption it might cause in the commercial world.
Then there is Brexit, of which there is seemingly no end. This is beyond our control but my comment would be that after a brief hiatus in the IT recruitment market after the vote there was a significant bounce-back. It’s clear that getting the IT right is going to be essential to making Brexit work and all the indications are that the growth in Brexit-related IT jobs will continue, especially in government, social/care, health and education.
Finally, we also have the distinct possibility of either the continuation of what appears to be one of the most incompetent and divided Conservative administrations of all time or the most socialist government ever in the UK’s history, plus another referendum on Scottish independence. Irrespective of individuals’ personal politics, I know of few businesspeople who don’t believe that any or all of these will cause yet more disquiet for companies and the economy at large, just at the time when we’re likely to be trying to fathom out how to deal with the consequences of actually being outside the EU.
Another Five Years
I’m sorry if all this paints a somewhat gloomy picture, but it shouldn’t because the reality is that the market for all jobs, not just IT jobs, is booming (as is Be-IT as a result!). Despite everything, the economy is still clunking along and has not tanked as some feared it might. However, my final thought is that with the nature of work expected to change, with increased AI/robotics taking over jobs previously done by us humans, the necessity for government to find a way not just to fund all essential public services but also find new models of obtaining the necessary funds (I can see taxes on robots), means we’re entering another five years of even greater change. Those who identify and analyse the impact of this next set of changes and respond best will be those who are still top of the pile come the mid 2020s.