2021 UK Employment Trends

By citiesabc resources - Jan 02, 2021

By Chris Hickey – UK CEO of Robert Walters

2020 has certainly been a year of upheaval and disruption, with the Covid-19 pandemic having a profound effect on both the UK and global markets.

Added to that, people’s lack of clarity around Brexit further compounded uncertainty.

Whilst the Brexit indecision dominated the first few months of 2020, it was Q2 where an element of shock was felt by companies and professionals alike due to Covid-19.

In spite of this, from the summer, we began to see a readjustment on a number of levels - aided by the UK’s highly skilled & adaptable workforce and the speed & ease at which many firms were able to transition to remote working.

Even with the broader market challenges, there has been positivity in some sectors this year, although this has been countered by substantial difficulties in others - such as retail, leisure, travel, and hospitality.

Areas that have done notably well out of the disruption have been those that are aligned to technology, supply chain & logistics, healthcare, and financial services – particularly in areas that rely on volatility such as hedge funds, broker-dealers and the trading arms of investment banks.

What will the hiring market look like in 2021? 

With a number of moving parts from 2020 expected to settle within the first quarter of 2021, a higher level of certainty will become more apparent in the UK market for the year ahead.

Macro-factors such as Brexit being concluded, the newly elected US President starting his term, and Covid vaccines being administered in a number of countries, will provide a positive springboard for the rest of the year.

Whilst the last quarter of 2020 can best be described as a bridging point for the UK hiring market, in 2021 we anticipate seeing a pent-up demand across a number of sectors, similar to what our colleagues in Asia and Australasia have seen in more recent months.

This pent-up demand will also see the return of broader salary inflation. As result, we anticipate that this salary inflation will be at a higher relative rate than the past 4 years, since the Brexit vote was passed.

Which skill sets will be in highest demand in 2021? 

Judging by previous market cycles, senior professionals that have expertise in restructuring and turnarounds will be in high demand as the UK initially emerges from its recessionary market.

Experienced individuals that are able to communicate effectively to provide training & advice to more junior staff will also be highly valued as the markets begin to pick up and transition into a growth cycle.

Whilst initial focus for hiring will primarily be for senior talent who possess strong communication skills, roles for junior staff and foot-in-door individuals will also begin to surface in turn, as demand cascades through sector by sector.

What key workplace trends do you anticipate in 2021? 

As a headline, we anticipate that some of the changes incorporated into workplaces as a result of Covid-19 in 2020 will be more enshrined in day to day working environments going forward.

With this in mind, we expect the way of working to change in a number of sectors, with an element of remote working continuing to be incorporated in some industries and sectors.

Whilst the pandemic did not necessarily bring about entirely new trends in working-style, it certainly fast-tracked the inevitable around flexible working – speeding the transition up by as much a 5-10 years for some companies.

One trend of note post lockdown in the UK, was when workplace restrictions were temporarily eased by the government, we saw a number of professionals gravitating back to an office for a variety of reasons.

With a general view that offices provide a clear delineation between work and home, as well as in a number of sectors benefitting productivity, communication, and wellbeing - offices will continue to remain a social hub for many professionals, albeit a socially distanced hub for the short-term.

What advice would you give hiring managers looking to recruit and retain employees in 2021?   

As ever, hiring managers need to remain flexible.

Instead of waiting for the ideal candidate in this market, consider candidates who shows potential, the right aptitude, and a willingness to learn.

Hiring managers who wait for a 10/10 will lose out to the competition – particularly in industries that are poised to grow at a rapid rate once the market turns around – such as travel, leisure, and hospitality.

With so much movement of talent, it is crucial that hiring managers get a solid understanding of transferrable skills.


Whilst it has been a disruptive 10 months, it is important to note that pre-pandemic the global economy was very much moving in the right direction – with markets and jobs at an all-time high in most developed & developing nations.

Whilst Covid-19 is something that has thrown that flow out-of-sync, there will be a period where markets begin to ‘pick up where they left off’ – with early 2021 anticipated to show the first signs of that. 

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