By Maximilian Clarke

The latest employment figures confirmed a further increase to the UK’s jobless total. But within the report, figures confirmed a shift in working practices as numbers of part time and flexible workers increased.

Although this may currently be driven largely through necessity, the shift towards different ways of working may be a lasting legacy of the economic downturn. Taking stock of what these trends mean for workers, employers and Government will be a core aim of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation newly launched Flexible Work Commission.

The figures show that self-employment hit a record high of 4.14 million in autumn 2011, eight per cent higher than in spring 2008. At the same time, the REC/KPMG Report on Jobs has consistently shown that the market for temporary and contract staff is proving more robust than the market for more traditional permanent, full-time hires.

“This week’s official ONS data reinforces trends we seeing through our Report on Jobs as well as in recent research we conducted with the PCG — namely the move towards more freelancing and flexible working patterns,” comments Gillian Econopouly, the REC's Head of Policy. “The economic downturn could lead to a lasting reconfiguration of the employment landscape in the UK.

“This will have implications for employers, workers and for Government policy. One major challenge is to provide independent freelancers and contractors with some form of support network — for example through professional bodies or through specialist recruitment agencies. Taking stock of current and future working patterns is one of the aims of the Flexible Work Commission which goes live later this month."

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