Employers are relying on agency workers for business growth as key skills become increasingly difficult to find, according to the latest JobsOutlook survey by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).

Almost all businesses (98%) surveyed said they have very little capacity to take on more work without hiring more staff, resulting in 84 percent of employers taking on agency workers in order to access “key strategic skills” – an increase of 29 percent since April 2013.

Kevin Green, chief executive at the REC, said:

“Businesses are clearly finding it difficult to attract people to certain roles. The number of vacancies is currently at record levels but candidate availability is falling. Our data indicates that employers may be shifting focus away from hiring staff, and towards improving the productivity of the workforce they already have.

“The second trend that is starting to emerge is employers hiring more people on short term assignments because they can’t find permanent staff with the skills and that they want to flex their resource to meet volatile demand.”

The monthly survey of UK employers also found that 97 percent are planning to increase or maintain the number of agency workers they are currently employing over the next three months, while 98 percent reported maintaining these levels over the next four to 12 months.

Just 22 percent of employers reported increasing their workforce in the last year but according to the research 62 percent are planning to hire more permanent employees in the next three months and 70 percent intend to introduce more permanent staff over the coming year.

Despite the growing opportunities for agency workers due to the skills shortage, 62 percent of employers said that they would be earning more money if they were employed on a permanent contract.