Job vacancies at their highest since before the recession

There are more job vacancies in the UK than at any time since the heady days before the recession, according to figures released this morning by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Wed, 19 Feb 2014

There are more job vacancies in the UK than at any time since the heady days before the recession, according to figures released this morning by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

According to the ONS, there are now 580,000 vacancies in the UK, the highest figure since September 2008, when the economy was at its pre-recession height. This is up from 492,000 in the same period (November to January) a year ago.

The ONS estimates published today show that the number of people out of work fell by 125,000 to 2.34m in the final quarter of 2013.

More than 193,000 more people were in work in the three months to the end of December than in the previous quarter. This brings the total number in employment to more than 30m.

However, due to a statistical quirk, the rate of unemployment edged up slightly to 7.2% in the last quarter of 2013, from 7.1% in the three months ending November 2013.  

Youth unemployment dropped by 1% on the last quarter, with 49,000 more 16-to-24-year-olds in work.

Kate Shoesmith, head of policy at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), says: “Today’s figures are more good news. The key indicators about numbers of people in work, benefits claimants, and both youth and long-term unemployed are going in the right direction.
“Even better, the official statistics are starting to reflect the data we collect every month from recruiters, which shows that both starting salaries for permanent jobs and agency worker pay rates are increasing month-on-month.

“There’s more good news when you look behind the headline statistics. For instance, we know that nine out of 10 employers have offered a permanent role to someone who was temping for them in the last year.”

Chris Williamson, chief economist at economic consultancy Markit, says: “Employment rose by 193,000 in the fourth quarter, its largest quarterly rise since the second quarter of 2012, up 396,000 on a year earlier. The increase was driven primarily by a rise in full-time work.

“The vacancy ration [the number of unemployed people per unfilled vacancy] now stands at 4.0, the lowest seen since November 2008, and which points to further employment and earnings growth in coming months.”

The number of people in part-time work remains high, standing at 1.4m, which is 46,000 higher than a year ago, according to the ONS.

Xenios Thrasyvoulou, founder of online freelancer marketplace PeoplePerHour, says: “What is clear is that the reliance on part-time work is not abating, with more than one in five employees now working between 16 and 20 hours, indicating the trend towards shorter work hours may continue into the recovery.

“Self-employment also remains high; what began as a trickle of people working for themselves has turned into a tide.”

Stephen Barter, a director at KPMG Management Consulting, says: “There’s certainly cause for optimism with the latest employment figures. Britain’s construction sector is also recovering, buoyed in part by a rise in demand for houses.  

“Current levels of momentum give hope that the recovery will build, yet there are paradoxes. It seems clear that cautious employers – and possibly employees – are preferring to take temporary roles ahead of going firm on permanent posts.”

John Philpott, director of The Jobs Economist, says: “The underlying trend in unemployment is firmly downward and the headline rate remains well on track to fall below 7% in the coming months.

“Falling unemployment and a rise in job vacancies is now aiding all categories of jobseekers, including young people and the long-term unemployed, while the problem of underemployment is also starting to ease slightly.”

Nigel Heap, MD of Hays, adds: “Falling unemployment and rising employment mirrors what we are seeing… While there may be some discrepancy over the headline figure, it seems that the overall trend is still positive and UK employment is moving in the right direction. Since the beginning of the year we’ve seen a definite increase in business and candidate confidence, which is fuelling activity and increasing opportunities for jobseekers.”

Gerwyn Davies, the CIPD’s Labour Market Adviser, says: “The underlying trend in employment is still clearly upwards. However, with productivity still languishing, no one should assume stronger signs of growth will translate into significant further job creation. Employment growth is usually a lagging indicator, but appears to have been more of a leading indicator in this recovery.”

This note of caution was echoed this morning on BBC Breakfast News by Recruiter’s editor DeeDee Doke, who was interviewed at the new Center Parcs development in Bedfordshire by business editor Steph McGovern.

With 11,000 applications for just 1,700 jobs at the new holiday village, Doke said that different areas of the country would be experiencing markedly different situations as far as job vacancies were concerned.

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