Recruitment group Hays has predicted that wages for skilled workers would rise at the fastest rate since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, as the “Great Resignation” leads to the strongest jobs market in more than a decade.

A surge in the number of workers looking for new roles has led to an unprecedented battle for talent and a rise in wages for higher earners.

“Most companies know that the level of increase in wages this year will be the highest certainly since . . . pre-Lehmans,” said Hays’ finance director Paul Venables. “For a skilled white-collar profession, we’re in a very hot market.”

Venables said the skills shortage had started before the pandemic and with the onset of Covid-19 lockdowns “the job market pretty much freezes for a period of time”.

Since then there had been some “quite unique factors driving what is the hottest permanent recruitment market” since he took the role at Hays 16 years ago, he added.

Hays said group fees rose 32 per cent in the three months to March, with “excellent growth in all regions” and 19 countries notching up record fee increases. 

“If I took the three months to December 2021, our UK business was up 33 per cent versus the prior year, and more importantly it was 7 per cent above where we were pre-pandemic,” said Venables.

Recruitment activity was particularly fierce in the technology sector, with fees from job placements in the UK and Ireland rising 52 per cent in the third quarter of Hays’ 2022 financial year.

“Certainly in things like cyber security engineers, which is quite a big role that we place in, if you take the UK, we’ve seen a 9 per cent increase in the average pay given to those candidates over the last year,” said Venables.

“In the skilled market and in the areas of the skilled market that are in technology or in decision support . . . on salaries of £50,000, £100,000 and above it feels like this is going to continue . . . across [the] calendar year,” he added.

One factor driving the increase in recruitment activity was the “Great Resignation — a greater proportion of people in jobs looking for a new job”.

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