Vacancies now exceed pre-pandemic levels, official figures show

Employment rates are also still improving, but experts warn of ‘serious worker shortages’ as firms prepare for restrictions easing

The UK’s labour market continued to recover last month, with the number of job vacancies now exceeding pre-Covid levels, official data has revealed.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show there were 862,000 job vacancies in April to June this year: an increase of 241,200 (39 per cent) on the previous quarter and 77,500 (10 per cent) higher than the vacancy levels in January to March 2020.

All but one sector saw an increase in the number of vacancies, with the arts, entertainment and recreation sector seeing the most notable increase of 330 per cent.

The number of employees on payroll also increased again in June by 356,000 to 28.9 million, and for the first time since the start of the pandemic, some regions and nations now have employment levels above their pre-pandemic rate.

However, employment across the country is still 206,000 below pre-Covid levels.

As coronavirus restrictions ease, the total number of hours worked across the economy also increased in the last quarter, but is also still below pre-pandemic levels.

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The redundancy rate has also decreased over the same period, returning to pre-pandemic levels and mirroring figures released earlier this week by the Insolvency Service.

Jonathan Boys, labour market economist at the CIPD, said the redundancy figures were a positive sign, suggesting that “the end of furlough will be a smooth transition that won’t result in too many job losses”.

“Any anxiety over job losses has been replaced by a fear of skills shortages,” said Boys, particularly in the hospitality sector as businesses “scramble to reopen hoping for a bumper summer trading”.

Because of this, Boys warned, employers will have to “work harder to attract and retain talent”, both by paying more and by investing in training and skills.

This was echoed by Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC). “Firms need to be thinking hard about their offer to potential employees at a time like this,” he said, warning of “serious worker shortages” across the economy, but particularly in sectors including logistics, hospitality and IT.

The government could support firms by “addressing long-standing business concerns about how the skills system supports our economy”, he added.

News of increasing employment rates were also tempered by warnings of ongoing long-term unemployment, which has hit a five-year high, said Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies (IES). He warned of a “two-speed recovery” that could leave behind those who lost their jobs last year.

“There are now more unemployed people than there are those still on full furlough, and with the economy creating jobs we need to be doing far better at helping unemployed people to fill them,” said Wilson.