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Recrutiment & Employment Confederation

UK recruitment industry’s direct economic impact was almost £36 billion in 2020

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The recruitment sector continued to provide a vital service to businesses, place tens of thousands of people into work and add billions to the value of the UK economy during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the REC’s latest industry status report, the wider recruitment industry contributed £35.9 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) to the UK economy in 2020. This was down by 11.5% from the previous year, but shows the resilience of the sector during the worst recession for 300 years.

During 2020, recruiters placed an average of 980,000 temporary workers on assignment every day, around the same number as 2019. They also placed 450,000 people into new permanent roles over the course of the year, 55% fewer than 2019.

Neil Carberry, Chief Executive of the REC, said:

“All of us at the REC are proud to represent an industry that provides an essential service to the whole country. This report covers one of the most tumultuous periods in the recruitment sector’s history. But what we found was a robust and adaptable industry that weathered the storms of 2020 with skill and commitment. The value of temporary staffing particularly stands out – almost a million temps on assignment every day helped to keep the country running and the health service staffed through one of the worst crises in living memory. 2021 has been a different beast altogether. We have seen how strongly the industry has bounced back this year, with a strong recovery in permanent recruitment in particular.

“As we have recovered, new headwinds have blown up, including labour shortages. The 2020 figures show what the industry can do in times of crisis and 2021 has shown unprecedented vacancies. In 2022, all employers will expect proper partnership from government on skills reform, support for the unemployed and immigration rules.”

Other key figures from the UK recruitment industry status report 2020/21 include:

  • The recruitment sector employed 110,000 people in more than 30,000 businesses in 2020, slightly lower than the previous year.
  • Using additional data up to summer 2021, the REC can give indicative forecasts that from 2020 to 2021 there will be a:
    • 1.2% increase in the direct GVA of the recruitment industry
    • 16.3% rise in the number of permanent placements. Anecdotal feedback from REC members and our Report on Jobs survey suggests this has strengthened further since the summer.
    • 6.7% increase in the number of temporary and contract workers on assignment each day.


Notes to editors:

The industry-wide figures in the REC’s UK recruitment industry status report 2020/21 were calculated using:

  • data drawn from a survey of 211 REC members conducted between 29 September and 18 October 2021
  • ONS data from the UK Business Counts register, the Annual Business Survey and the Index of Services time series
  • historical data from the monthly Report on Jobs and JobsOutlook surveys.


For more information and interview enquiries, contact the REC Press Office on 020 7009 2157, 020 7009 2129 or Outside of regular office hours, please call 07702 568 829.