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Oxfordshire Recruitment Market Overview for Q2 2021

Kate Allen, Managing Director, Allen Associates

The first half of 2021 is turning out to be more of a rollercoaster ride than employers may have anticipated. As businesses prepare to scale up and start looking at recruitment to underpin their growth, they may be surprised to find a very different employment market to the one they were expecting. If you were one of the many businesses that thought the market would be the same as it was coming out of the last recession, with a large pool of great candidates ready and waiting, then you may need to re-think your approach. This blog provides an overview of the Oxfordshire recruitment market in the second quarter of 2021 and highlights the key issues that employers and their HR teams need to be aware of in the current climate.

Oxfordshire Recruitment Market Overview – Setting the Scene

In my last market overview published during the first quarter of 2021, we were feeling cautiously optimistic. The UK's vaccination programme was gathering momentum, media headlines were encouraging and here in Oxfordshire, we were starting to see an upsurge in enquiries from businesses and other organisations actively looking to recruit Temporary and Permanent staff.

This trend has continued in the second quarter as business and consumer confidence continues to rise in the wake of falling numbers of Covid cases, the gradual lifting of lockdown restrictions and increasingly positive economic forecasts.

The Bank of England has predicted that the UK economy will grow at its fastest rate since records began just over 70 years ago, with growth of 7.25% expected this year, after shrinking almost 10% in 2020. The Bank said it expects the UK economy to bounce back to its pre-pandemic size before the end of the year.

This supports and builds on the predictions made by Mark Berrisford-Smith, Head of Economics at HSBC UK, at an earlier webinar when he said the economy would 'really start to take off' this quarter.

Oxford in the Top 10 for Job Creation

These predictions are good news for the UK and even greater news for Oxford! According to the UK Powerhouse report from Irwin Mitchell and the Centre for Economic and Business Research, Oxford is expected to lead the nation's post-Covid recovery in 2021, with some of the fastest employment growth in the UK.

The report found that Oxford had the strongest end to 2020 with a 3%  increase in employment. It predicted in December 2020 that this level of employment growth will dip slightly in the 12 months leading up to the fourth quarter of 2021, but that it will still create 2,200 new jobs.

 “Similar to all other towns and cities in the report, Oxford suffered a contraction in the size of its economy during 2020. It has recovered very strongly however and by the end of 2021, it is expected to be in the top 10 for GVA growth and job creation."

Vicky Brackett, Partner and Head of Irwin Mitchell’s business division

Vacancies continue to increase

At Allen Associates, we had a strong first quarter (January to March) with permanent placements up by one-third on the previous three months. We are now well into the second quarter of 2021 and with new vacancies continuing to come in, I'm delighted to say that we are on track to fill even more roles in the run up to Summer.

Interestingly, a large proportion of our permanent vacancies are for Business Development and Marketing roles – and Digital Marketing specialists are particularly sought after – as businesses get ready to accelerate their growth plans. This marks a change from previous months when employers were mostly focused on HR and Finance-related recruitment as they tried to get to grips with the impacts of Covid on revenues and staff.

Our experiences on the ground in Oxford and across Oxfordshire's market towns, business and science parks, are reflected in the national picture. Posting on LinkedIn in April, Neil Carberry, Chief Executive at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation commented on the recent REC 'Report on Jobs' which confirmed what sentiment surveys have been suggesting – that 'hiring has bounced back in a big way.'

"For companies, the lesson is that the tight labour market won’t be away for long - in some sectors it hasn’t gone away at all. That makes how you employ matter - What is your offer? Your approach to employee relations? (…) How will you do hybrid?"

Neil Carberry, Chief Executive at the REC

Demand for Temporary workers remains strong. A recent REC JobsOutlook survey found that  Temporary hiring intentions reached their highest level in March since mid-2018 as employers continued to look for immediate, flexible and cost-effective ways of scaling their businesses.

Our Temps have proven to be amazing at adapting to different remote working environments and roles during the pandemic, and there is no doubt that they will be in even greater demand when businesses return to the workplace, even if it is in a staggered or part-time way.

What do these recruitment trends mean for employers?

As Oxfordshire-based employers gear up for growth and start recruiting again, they may be surprised to encounter a complex and fast-moving employment market that looks very different to the one they were expecting.

Unemployment rates have gone through the roof. Right?

Huge numbers of people lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. Right?

Right! So why doesn't the employment market look and feel like it did at the end of the last recession?

There are many reasons for this. Although some sectors of the economy have been decimated, many others have survived and some have even thrived over the last 12 months.

Competition for highly sought-after or niche skills has not abated, particularly in sectors such as life sciences, medical research, engineering and technology, and these roles are arguably as difficult to fill now as they were before.

As more recruitment opportunities have opened up this year, most of the candidates whose roles were made redundant in the early stages of the pandemic and who were actively looking for work, have now found employment.

Businesses and other organisations of all sizes and in all sectors are currently looking to bolster their back office and support functions. We specialise in recruiting for PA and Administration, Marketing, HR and Finance staff at all levels – and most of the job applicants that we register are currently employed. That is not to say that they are not serious about making their next career move. They are! However, they are also more cautious and selective now than they were a year ago and this means employers have to make a compelling case.

How to secure your first choice candidate

Candidates with sought-after traits and skills along with relevant experience, are in increasingly high demand. Over the last few weeks, we have seen competition return to the Oxfordshire market – not just for niche roles but for good candidates across the board – and this is leading to multiple offers as well as counter-offers from existing employers.

There are five things employers can do to help secure their ideal candidate:

  1. Form a realistic view of what the market is really like
  2. Make sure recruitment processes are robust and speedy
  3. Showcase a strong employer brand
  4. Develop a compelling offer
  5. Be open to flexible hours and home working

We are here to help

It is early days in the UK's recovery, but if Covid can be successfully managed and the economic forecasts prove to be true, it's reasonable to expect investment and growth to continue at pace. In these circumstances, there is a good chance that we will see a return to a competitive, candidate-driven market. We will continue to keep a close eye on developments over the coming months and look forward to bringing you the next Oxfordshire Recruitment Market Overview in September.

Until then, we are here to advise and support you in any way that we can. If you are an employer or HR professional preparing to make your next Temporary or Permanent hire, please do get in touch – or come along to one of our monthly Zoom HR Hubs. If you are a candidate actively looking for a new opportunity, please browse our Latest Jobs and contact us if you would like to find out more about a role or our registration process.

You will find our previous Oxfordshire Recruitment Market Overview for Q1 of 2021, here.

About the author, Kate Allen

Kate Allen is the founder and Managing Director of Oxfordshire and London-based recruitment agency Allen Associates and can be contacted at

Read Kate's bio and meet the rest of the team, here.

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