Vacancies reach pandemic high, but young still losing out

Many more young people are set to enter the labour market this summer
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The number of job vacancies in the UK has hit its highest level since the Covid-19 pandemic began and the unemployment rate has dropped slightly, but young people continue to bear the brunt of job losses.

According to the latest Office for National Statistics figures, there were 657,000 vacancies in February-April 2021, an increase of 48,400 on the previous quarter. This was mainly driven by the opening of retail and outdoor hospitality at the beginning of April.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate fell to 4.8% in the three months to March, down from 4.9% in the previous rolling quarter.

However, the number of people out of work remained well above pre-pandemic levels. Although the number of workers on payrolls had risen by 97,000 between March and April, this figure was still 772,000 lower than before the pandemic struck.

Young people (16 to 24-year-olds) in particular continued to experience the greatest employment shock, with the ONS stating that more young people were choosing to stay in education instead of looking for work.

“Talk of recovery is likely to feel premature for younger and older groups and those with fewer qualifications, who are still waiting for opportunities to reach them,” said Madison Kerr, an economist at Pro Bono Economics. “The social sector has a key role in helping support those individuals build their skills and return to work, yet the capacity crunch it’s currently experiencing is an ongoing challenge.”

Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market adviser for the CIPD, warned that the situation for young people could worsen over the coming months when many leave education.

Talk of recovery is likely to feel premature for younger and older groups and those with fewer qualifications, who are still waiting for opportunities to reach them,” – Madison Kerr, Pro Bono Economics

“The number of young employees remains near a post-pandemic low, which is a worry with many of this year’s crop of school and university leavers seeking to join the labour market this summer. Helping them find their first jobs should therefore be a matter of urgency for policymakers and employers,” he said.

“More generous apprenticeship incentives that are targeted specifically at 18-24 year-olds and putting extra public resources into people management skills would help with both the recruitment and retention of younger workers. These efforts should be complemented by employers, who should be reviewing their recruitment, training and reward practices as well as the quality of jobs they offer. Such actions will help offset labour shortages and improve productivity.”

Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said the announcement about skills investment in last week’s Queen’s Speech was welcomed, but more needed to be done to help meet employers’ and job seekers’ skills needs.

“It’s clear that the apprenticeship levy is not working effectively – broadening it into a more flexible skills levy that all workers can use to access training would be a real boost, and speak to the government’s levelling up agenda,” he said.

Recruitment firm Aspire claimed that many jobseekers did not have the skills needed to fill the positions employers were recruiting for.

“Those businesses on a hiring spree may be unaware of the shortage of available talent out there. We’re noticing that the number of people applying for a job has dropped to pre-pandemic levels, with workers not possessing the skills required to fill available positions,” said founder Paul Farrer. “This is why the government’s recent commitment to invest in training and skills is so important – although the benefits of this will take some time to appear.”

We’re noticing that the number of people applying for a job has dropped to pre-pandemic levels, with workers not possessing the skills required to fill available positions,” – Paul Farrer, Aspire

The TUC was concerned about the rising unemployment rate among those from ethnic minority groups. Its analysis of today’s figures found that the black and minority ethnic unemployment rate has risen by 41% over the past year, compared with a 14% increase in the white unemployment rate. Currently, 8.9% of black and minority ethnic people are unemployed, compared with 4.1% of white people.

“BME workers have borne the brunt of the pandemic. They’ve been more likely to work in industries like hospitality and retail that have been hit hard by unemployment,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.

“And when BME workers have held on to their jobs, we know that they are more likely to be in low-paid, insecure work that has put them at greater risk from the virus. This structural discrimination has led to a disproportionate BME death rate from coronavirus.

“Now we are emerging from the pandemic, we can’t allow these inequalities. Ministers must hold down unemployment, create good new jobs and challenge the systematic discrimination that holds BME workers back.”

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