Job vacancies rise to record levels, says ONS

The number of job vacancies in February to April 2022 has risen to a new record of 1,295,000, according to the Office of National Statistics.

The increase reflects a rise of 33,700 from the previous quarter and an increase of 499,300 from the pre-coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic level in January to March 2020.

The ONS also reported that from January to March this year, for the first time, the number of vacancies was larger than the number of people unemployed.

The ratio of vacancies to every 100 employee jobs reached a further record high of 4.3 in February to April 2022, with many industry sectors reporting record high ratios.

In February to April 2022 quarterly vacancy growth fell to 2.7% from 5.8% last quarter. Despite the quarterly growth rate decreasing for nine consecutive periods, the ONS said “it remains positive and displays the most sustained period of positive growth since the end of 2015”.

The rate of quarterly growth varies across industry sectors, with the fastest rates of quarterly growth seen in arts, entertainment and recreation at 33% and construction at 28.1%.

Despite the quarterly rate of vacancy growth slowing down, the number of vacancies continues to rise with 14 of the 18 industry sectors increasing their number of vacancies in the latest three-month period. On the quarter, vacancies increased by 33,700 with the largest increases in construction (10,700) and arts, entertainment and recreation (9,300).

February to April 2022 saw all industries above their January to March 2020 pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic levels, with the largest increase in accommodation and food service activities up 85,500 (100.6%).

In January to March 2022 the ratio of unemployed people to every vacancy remained at 1.0, the ONS said.

However, for the first time, the number of vacancies was larger than the number of people unemployed, following continued vacancy growth and declining unemployment.

The latest Labour Force Survey (LFS) estimates for January to March 2022 show that over the quarter there was a decrease in the unemployment rate, while the employment and inactivity rates increased.

The UK employment rate increased by 0.1 percentage points on the quarter to 75.7% but is still below pre-pandemic levels, the ONS said. The increase in the employment rate was driven by the movement of people aged 16 to 64 years from unemployment to employment.

However, there was also a record-high movement of people from economic inactivity into employment. Total job-to-job moves also increased to a record high of 994,000, “driven by resignations rather than dismissals”, the ONS said, during the January to March 2022 period.

The most timely estimate of payrolled employees for April 2022 shows a monthly increase, the ONS said, up 121,000 on the revised March 2022, to a record 29.5m. 

Reacting to the news, Neil Carberry, CEO of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), said: “These figures tell the story of a vibrant but stretched labour market in the first quarter of 2022. It’s a great time to be looking for work, as there are now fewer unemployed people in the UK than there are job vacancies. 

“But employment levels and hours worked are still lower than before the pandemic, as more people are not working and also not looking to. Over time, this capacity constraint can only slow growth and contribute to inflation. Business and government need to work together on ways to attract more people back into the labour market, as well as ensuring the new immigration policy addresses fundamental gaps.

“These staff shortages are also contributing to rising pay. But these rises this will only be sustainable if we can grow a productive and competitive economy. Encouraging that growth needs to be the key focus for government moving forward. The cost of living crisis won’t be solved by slogans, or trade wars.”

With this latest ONS data revealing that the number of available jobs have surpassed the number of people unemployed for the first time – the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) has highlighted the urgent need for more appropriate employment legislation to increase participation in the labour market.

Tania Bowers, global public policy director at APSCo, said: “The skills shortages in the UK are reaching concerning levels and this latest data shows the scale of the pressure on employers and the staffing sector as demand continues to outstrip supply. We’ve seen some encouraging signs from the government, including the highly skilled immigration visa which was announced by the chancellor earlier this year.

“However, we are concerned that the absence of the Employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech is an indication that the immediate skills crisis has slipped off the priority list for the Government. At a time when the job market is growing at unprecedented rates and competition is rife, more appropriate regulation is needed for the modern labour market. 

“Our members are taking matters into their own hands and using an ‘attract, train, deploy’ model to train graduates and school leavers for specialist roles, but there is a risk of first jobbers being treated poorly such as the recently reported news of a firm purportedly claiming extensive costs from new hires if they leave a position before their pre-agreed term is up. 

“As vacancies continue to rise and supply of highly skilled resources drops, swift action is needed. But for that to happen, we first need clarity on the regulation of the labour market.”

Bev White, CEO, Nash Squared, owner of global technology recruiter Harvey Nash Group, highlighted positives for the UK’s technology sector in the ONS’s latest report: “It’s been the leader for UK job creation over the last three years, and the number of women joining the sector has risen significantly – meaning that more than half a million women are now employed in tech. 

“But these successes are being dented by widespread skills shortages that aren’t going to disappear overnight. Increased and targeted government funding into digital skills was announced in last year’s Queen’s Speech, but this will take time to feed through on the ground.

“However, the industry is reacting swiftly through means of its own – investing more in upskilling staff and offering more apprenticeships. At the same time, employers are increasingly recognising that remote working needs managers with soft skills such as strong communication, empathy, and coaching acumen rather than just a technical background.”

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