Slowing, but growing. How to report the jobs-market?

Slowing, but growing. How to report the jobs-market?

Posted on 17/02/2015 

by Laura Armstrong

A few days ago, the BBC reported the results of the Markit/Bank of Scotland Report on Jobs for January, under the headline, “Scotland's jobs market showed signs of "cooling" last month, according to a new report.”


However, as is made clear at the end of the report, “the Scottish economy continues to grow at the start of 201,5 but at a slower rate than the end of last year.” 


Bad news sells papers (or nowadays page views), good news (generally) doesn’t.  If the headline had been “Good News! The Scottish economy continues to grow”, that would have presented a different picture to the reader than the ‘cooling’ that the actual headline records.


So which is it?  And why does it matter so much how this is reported?


Well, the answer is both simple and complex.  For a start, the BoS survey uses data from recruitment and employment agencies (like us), so it’s not entirely representative of the whole market.  However, it does give a very good snapshot, and the reality is that January did see a fall off in permanent appointments across all sectors. The Labour Market Barometer fell to 60.0 in January, its lowest reading since September 2013 and "comfortably below" its 2014 average of 63.9. Crucially though, any figure above 50 implies that market conditions are improving, hence the BBC were also able to report, “the overall jobs market continued to improve.” 


More specifically, and from our perspective more importantly, IT and Computing is still the best performing sector in Scotland in terms of demand for permanent staff, and second best for temporary staff.   Our own experience shows the last month bucking the trend reported here: 9-20’s Technology Division had a phenomenal month in January, better than any month in 2014, which was itself a record year for us.  As you’d expect, we’re constantly scanning market reports and without exception the articles and blogs on the tech sector are upbeat and confident.  The competition for talent is unbelievably fierce. I had a candidate who was in such demand, with several companies fighting for his skills, that he was able to increase his salary by 48%.  We see a buoyant future, with February and March expected to continue the upward trend, especially in the areas of mobile and digital design.


That is what I believe should be stressed.  We know there are pressures elsewhere. The slings and arrows of outrageous (business) fortune are many and varied: we have a potential disaster looming if Greece leaves the Euro, Aberdeen continues to suffer from the low oil price, Ukraine blows up into an east-west conflict by proxy and/or if/when there are more terrorist atrocities in the West.  If you are of a pessimistic frame of mind it’s easy to be persuaded that the sky is falling. But in the meantime, we can only get on with what is in front of us, which is what we, and our clients, are doing, as reflected in the healthy state of the IT industry in Scotland.


Moreover, it needs to be remembered that these surveys are but one month snapshots: one month is important but the longer term pattern is more important still.  Business confidence after the worst recession in (almost) living memory is fragile at the best of times. We know the media has a job to do, but sometimes we would like to see a little more emphasis on the positive!


Laura Armstrong, Head of Technology, 9-20