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Recruitment struggles begin to ease as firms enjoy confident start to 2024

Businesses in Greater Birmingham are more upbeat about the prospect of growing their workforce following a long period of recruitment struggles, according to a new economic report.

Henrietta Brealey

Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce’s latest quarterly business report indicates a buoyant start to 2024 for many of the region’s firms, with positive trends in recruitment, domestic sales and price stability.

The first quarter report, sponsored by Birmingham City University, found that the number of firms who attempted to recruit over the last quarter grew by two per cent, while those experiencing recruitment difficulties fell significantly from 72 per cent to 63 per cent – the lowest figure since the third quarter of 2021.

Recruitment confidence across all sectors is showing tentative signs of improvement, with 39 per cent of businesses anticipating that their workforce will increase over the next three months.

Meanwhile, 45 per cent of businesses reported a rise in domestic sales and domestic orders – both up five percentage points from the previous quarter.

The figures firmly indicate an upward trend in improved UK sales volumes, after a dramatic slump from 50 per cent to 39 per cent between the second and third quarters of last year.

Export sales have remained tepid, with the number of business reporting an increase in export sales growth staying at the same level as the final quarter of 2023 at 28 per cent.

Henrietta Brealey, chief executive of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, said: “The start of 2024 has brought emerging signs of improved business confidence in recruitment, domestic sales and price stability, despite the challenges that remain regarding investment and exporting.

“Signs of progress have continued with domestic sales and orders given that the number of businesses reporting an increase in their UK business activity is now greater than the number of those reporting that it had stabilised – reversing a trend of multiple consecutive quarters.

“While showing signs of recovery from a sudden slump in mid-2023, export growth lags behind domestic growth. This highlights the difficulties faced by businesses trading internationally, especially contending with a complex international commercial and political environment such as disruption in the red sea and geopolitical instability in the Middle East on top of domestic macroeconomic challenges.

“Looking at the wider landscape of business confidence, slightly more businesses than last quarter expect prices to stabilise than to increase, which coincides with the slight drop in inflation concerns compared with the latter half of 2023.

“Most significantly, there has been a notable improvement in the recruitment landscape this quarter, although overcoming difficulties to accessing talent remains high on business’ priority list and price pressures remain high.”

Jo Birch, director of innovation, enterprise, employability and business engagement at Birmingham City University, said: “The Q1 report highlights a number of positive trends across the responding business base, indicating levels of buoyancy for the year ahead.

"For example, the workforce is anticipated to grow, difficulties in recruitment have reduced, whilst there was also positive sentiment regarding both the domestic and export markets.

“However, it was notable that just 47 per cent of businesses identified that they were working at full capacity.

“Reflecting the theme of the report, and as echoed through the Chamber’s recent Business Commission it is imperative, however, that innovative businesses are supported to expand and scale-up, in order to drive regional productivity and growth.”

The quarterly report will be launched with an event focusing on innovation in Greater Birmingham, which is taking place at Birmingham City University on April 23.

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