Job vacancies reach another record high, official figures show

But experts warn of labour market ‘sugar rush’ and call for more sustainable growth as the majority of openings are for temporary roles

Job vacancies in the UK hit another record high last month, the latest official figures have shown.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed the number of vacancies reached 1,102,000 in July to September, up 68,000 from the previous rolling quarter and the second consecutive rolling quarter that vacancies have topped a million.

This also marks an increase of 318,000 on the number of vacancies in January to March 2020 – the last figures before the first national lockdown.

At the same time, ONS figures have shown that employment has risen and unemployment has fallen nearly to pre-pandemic levels.

The UK employment rate for June to August was estimated at 75.3 per cent, 0.5 percentage points higher than the previous quarter and just 1.3 percentage points below than the pre-pandemic period of December 2019 to February 2020.

Similarly, unemployment for June to August was down to 4.5 per cent, just 0.5 percentage points higher than pre-pandemic levels and 0.4 percentage points lower than the previous quarter.

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However, while the figures suggest the labour market was continuing its return to its pre-pandemic state, Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market adviser at the CIPD, cautioned that the figures also masked a sharp increase in the number of temporary workers.

“Virtually all of the extra jobs that have been created since the onset of the pandemic are for temporary staff” said Davies, noting that involuntary temporary employment was still relatively high, up by 134,000 (34 per cent) since the start of the pandemic.

He added that this growth in contract working, which was “mainly due to an uncertain business environment and the need to fill temporary shortages caused by self-isolation”, was adversely affecting women, who accounted for the majority of the increase in involuntary temporary employment.

Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), also cautioned that the current shortage of workers was driving a “sugar rush in the labour market” that “cannot last forever”.

“Competition for staff is fierce. Our own figures for the month of September back up the ONS data showing salaries are on the rise, especially in sectors where shortages are most acute,” he said.

Carberry called on the government and businesses to work together to “deliver sustainable growth” and increase productivity. “That means investing in skills, especially at lower levels, supporting younger people into work, and helping firms to compete internationally,” he said.

Matt Weston, UK managing director of Robert Half, added that with the demand for skills still outstripping supply, many candidates now have multiple job offers.

“Businesses need to pull out all the stops,” Weston said. “Salary alone is not enough; employers must review the benefits on offer and promote their values to set themselves apart.”

Separate research, released earlier this month by Gartner, found that the majority of UK-based candidates were considering multiple job offers, with 32 per cent considering at least three offers.

The research, part of the 2021 Gartner Candidates Panel Survey, also found that in the past year 52 per cent of UK candidates took courses to learn new skills, 64 per cent explored a career change, and 50 per cent applied to jobs outside their current career.

Jamie Kohn, research director in the Gartner HR practice, said employees were “facing a very different, and extremely competitive, job market” compared to previous years, and urged firms not to overlook potential talent already existing within their own organisation.

“Improving internal mobility can help employers find employees with adjacent skills, boost diversity, equity and inclusion and tap into nontraditional talent pools that are outside customary recruiting hot spots,” she said.