Overview of the UK's HR and recruitment sector

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
March, 2017

While human resources (HR) professionals make up just 1% of the total UK workforce, jobs are available across all industries and sectors - but you'll have to keep up with changing employee needs

What areas can I work in?

Nearly every type of organisation needs for HR staff, so there are opportunities in all sectors.

If you work in-house at a large company, you will be part of an HR team, and possibly specialise in one or more of these areas:

  • employee engagement
  • employee relations
  • employment law
  • health and safety
  • industrial relations
  • payroll and pensions
  • performance and reward
  • recruitment and talent management
  • strategy and organisation development
  • training, learning and development.

At a smaller company, it's typically expected that you'll perform a range of different tasks related to these various disciplines. However, this will depend on the needs of the business and the exact description of your role - see human resources jobs.

While human resources officer is a common job title for those involved in numerous aspects of HR, other positions may focus on a related field such as learning and development (L&D), careers coaching or occupational psychology.

Not all organisations have a traditional HR department, however, with some now outsourcing many services such as recruitment, payroll and pensions management to an external supplier - for instance, dedicated HR outsourcing companies (HROs), recruitment agencies or consultancies.

If you are looking to specialise in recruitment, large international agencies operate in numerous sectors of the employment market - for example, Adecco, which employs more than 70,000 workers in 60 countries. Many smaller independent agencies specialise within an industry or particular sector, such as education or digital.

Who are the main graduate employers?

While HR and recruitment functions exist in many UK companies and across most sectors, in large organisations these services tend to be based at their head office, meaning that you're likely to be working in London or another major city.

Some organisations offer HR as one element of a general management graduate scheme, but HR-specific programmes are offered by many leading employers, including the following:

  • Balfour Beatty
  • BP
  • Centrica
  • Civil Service Fast Stream
  • DHL
  • GSK (GlaxoSmithKline)
  • Jaguar Land Rover
  • KPMG
  • Lloyds Banking Group
  • Mitchells & Butlers
  • Network Rail
  • NHS
  • Nestlé
  • PwC
  • Rolls-Royce
  • Royal Mail Group.

There may also be opportunities for work experience with a strong HR focus - discover more about internships and work placements at getting a graduate job in human resources.

Recruitment consultancies also take on recent graduates. These include:

  • Adecco Group
  • Big Red Recruitment
  • Cititec
  • Client Server
  • Hays
  • PageGroup
  • Randstad
  • Reed.co.uk
  • Spencer Ogden.

What's it like working in HR?

Graduates entering the recruitment and HR sector can expect:

  • a competitive industry with strict deadlines and targets
  • high earning potential - the average salary for HR professionals is £38,896, according to Reed.co.uk, while some companies offer commission and bonus schemes
  • to be rewarded for your qualifications and growing experience - the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) reveals how HR officers can earn £24,000 and above, HR managers between £30,000-£50,000 and HR directors over £80,000
  • self-employment as an option for those with experience and the right qualifications, especially with outsourcing making consultancy work increasingly common
  • to work in an office, most likely as part of a team in larger companies, but often on your own in smaller businesses.

To find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in HR-related careers, see job profiles.

What are the key issues in HR?

CIPD's HR Outlook: Winter 2016-17: views of our profession survey questioned 629 HR professionals at all levels on the trends, topics and challenges facing the industry, with key findings including a call for HR to embrace the benefits of technology - for instance, automation, social media and mobile -and adapt to the workforce's changing needs and desires, including a demand for flexible working.

It also revealed that with such high levels of employment coupled with economic uncertainty resulting from Brexit and globalisation, this just emphasises the need for effective talent management in attracting, retaining and developing the best employees.

The CIPD study pointed out that while organisation leaders were generally considered to be highly competent in operational, financial and technical matters, they often lacked in people management skills.

Therefore training, as well as learning and development (L&D), will continue to be growth areas in HR and other sectors, as those with the right attributes work to get the best out of a company's workforce while driving business performance.

To explore the training and qualifications on offer to HR professionals at all stages of their career, visit the CIPD website.

What about working in recruitment?

The recruitment industry is continuing to grow, with the Recruitment & Employment Confederation's (REC) annual Recruitment Industry Trends 2015/16 report stating that in 2015 it was worth £35.1billion to the UK economy, up 9% on the previous year.

Despite a tightening of the jobs market and the potential consequences of the Brexit vote, there are currently numerous opportunities for graduates to enter the sector - especially with nearly 10,000 UK agencies reporting a turnover of more than £250,000.

LinkedIn Talent Solutions' Global Recruiting Trends 2016 survey found that talent acquisition leaders expect social professional networks to remain dominant in recruitment strategies to source passive candidates, so those with strong digital skills, as well as the ability to build successful candidate relationships, will improve your prospects of landing a job in recruitment or HR talent planning.