Record number of Brits looking for work, study shows

6 Aug 2020 By Maggie Baska

Increase is particularly acute for those seeking temporary roles, while rise in permanent job hunters is highest since the 2008 financial crisis

Recruiters are seeing the steepest rise in the number of Brits seeking work since the financial crisis, according to research, as companies start to make redundancies in the wake of the furlough scheme winding down. 

The latest Report on Jobs survey by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) and accountancy firm KPMG, found the increase was particularly acute among those looking for temporary work, with numbers for this group rising in July at the fastest rate since records began in 1997. 

The REC’s latest temporary staff availability index – based on a survey of recruiters and where a score more than 50 indicates an expansion in number of jobseekers, while a score below 50 indicates a contraction – rose to 85 in July. This compared to 83.9 in June. This was a marked rise compared to before the pandemic, with the index scoring 48.5 in February.

The report, which surveyed around 400 UK recruitment and employment consultancies, also found the supply of people available for permanent work soared in July by the largest amount since the financial crisis in 2008. The REC’s permanent staff availability index, which was 45.7 in February, rose to 81.2 in June and then 84 in July.

An increase in overall candidate availability has been driven by large numbers of redundancies being made because of the pandemic, the report said. WH Smith became one of the latest companies to announce job cuts on Wednesday (5 August), following redundancy announcements this week from Dixons Carphone, PizzaExpress, LGH and Hays Travel.

Separately, conciliation service Acas announced today (6 August) that it had experienced a marked increase in the number of people calling its helpline concerned about redundancies during the pandemic.

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Acas said redundancy-related calls increased by 160 per cent over the past two months, compared to the same period in 2019. Nearly a third of calls to the helpline were now related to redundancy, as the pandemic, alongside fears around the furlough scheme tapering off, has left many employers and staff concerned about their livelihoods. 

Gerwyn Davies, senior labour adviser at the CIPD, warned employers considering redundancies to factor in both the direct cost and the cost of hiring new recruits when demand recovers, including any training and induction costs. “Some employers may conclude that redundancies are not the optimal option in the short term,” he said.

Any decision to avoid redundancies would have a positive impact on employee engagement and an organisation’s external reputation, which in turn boosts long-term performance, Davies said.

As redundancies have begun to rise, so has the number of people applying for the small number of jobs posted, said Jack Kennedy, UK economist for Indeed. “Despite the differences in experience and skills and interests of those jobseekers, they're actually all kind of looking at pretty similar types of jobs because essentially opportunities in their current sector have dried up, and they're being forced to look to other occupations,” Kennedy explained. 

Kennedy said employers in the hospitality and retail sectors were already being overwhelmed by job applications, and employers and recruiters would have to adapt their processes to handle these high volumes.

Today’s REC jobs report also showed revenues made by recruitment companies for placing both permanent and temporary staff were still in decline. But the pace of that decrease had slowed as lockdown restrictions eased. Neil Carberry, chief executive of the REC, said he expected an improving trend in the coming months as the economy reopened and firms started to recover from the crisis.

“Recruiters will be key to helping people build confidence and find work – but the reality is that the government needs to help kick start hiring,” Carberry said, reiterating earlier calls for cuts to hiring costs, including a reduction in national insurance rates. “A good Brexit trade deal will also support stronger business confidence and investment,” he added.

However, James Stewart, vice chair at KPMG, said the UK was “still a long way from being out of the woods”, and that many hiring plans remained “on ice” because of future uncertainty. “As the furlough scheme unwinds, unemployment is likely to rise further, proving both an opportunity and challenge for the government to create training and skills programmes for jobseekers – and help bring confidence back to the UK workforce,” he said. 

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