Employment

Warnings on skills and furlough despite jobs vacancies ‘bouncing back’

The number of vacancies has risen above pre-pandemic levels for the first time but young people may still face the brunt of an "uneven recovery"

Image of Chancellor Rishi Sunak

The chancellor Rishi Sunak. Image: Tim Hammond / No 10 Downing Street

Job vacancies have risen above pre-pandemic levels for the first time as the economy continues to “bounce back” from Covid-19 – but the end of the furlough scheme still looms large over the employment market.

The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed there were 862,000 job vacancies in the UK between April and June 2021, up almost 40 per cent on the previous three months and 10 per cent higher than immediately before the pandemic in 2020.

But businesses have warned that vacancies are proving difficult to fill due to skills and staff shortages, while the impending end of the furlough scheme at the end of September has youth charities fearing wider unemployment later in the year.

Despite rising vacancies, youngsters like Aislinn Hon, from Bolton, have struggled to get a head start in their chosen career.

The 23-year-old has applied for more than 50 job vacancies during the pandemic in her quest to work as an artist in the games industry but has struggled to find work. Instead she has been working as a receptionist to make ends meet, back at the Manchester university where she graduated in 2019.

Aislinn-Hon-jobs

“I’ve exhausted pretty much every job I can find on LinkedIn, Indeed or any other kind of job website, and I’ve had a lot of rejections,” she said.

“In the games industry you’re always learning, you’re never perfect. It would help if I could be told what I could focus on to increase my chances, but no one’s really willing to give you that even though you just don’t know what to do.

“So how do you get people that are experienced if you don’t give them the opportunity?”

Overall, there were 539,000 young people unemployed between March and May 2021. The figure is down four per cent on the same period in 2020, as hospitality roles have resumed in recent months.

But the number of 16-24 year olds unemployed for more than a year has increased by 63 per cent during the pandemic – a rise of more than 41,000 youngsters.

With almost 300,000 young people still relying on the furlough scheme as of May 31, youth charities have warned there could still be a rocky road ahead for some.

“We’re beginning to see an uneven recovery, with young people bearing the brunt,” said Steve Haines, director of public affairs at youth charity Impetus.

“We are fast approaching the end of furlough when we’ll see hundreds of thousands more young people out of the labour market, and they will join those leaving education on the list of those looking for work.”

Paul Noblet, head of public affairs at Centrepoint, added: “With the end of the furlough scheme ahead, more young people are set to find themselves in vulnerable positions. The right support needs to be put in place and the universal credit uplift of £20 needs to be maintained, in order to help young people get back into the job market.”

The job vacancies boost, driven by an increase in arts, entertainment and recreation roles up for grabs as Covid-19 restrictions eased, has been hailed by Rishi Sunak. The chancellor also praised the highest number of employees on payrolls since April 2020 – up 356,000 in June to 28.9 million – and a drop in unemployment to 4.8 per cent.   

Sunak said: “As we approach the final stages of reopening the economy, I look forward to seeing more people back at work and the economy continuing to rebound. We are bouncing back.”

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The economy is set to take its biggest step towards reopening fully in England on July 19 when the majority of Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted and workers will be advised to return to offices and places of work.

In some areas of the country – namely the north-east of England as well as the North West and the East Midlands – there will be more employees on payrolls to return to work than before the pandemic.

However, the number of staff on companies’ books is still lower than in March 2020 overall and there are warnings of difficulties ahead as the furlough scheme is phased out ahead of its withdrawal in September.

“The labour market is continuing to recover, with the number of employees on payroll up again strongly in June,” said the ONS director of economic statistics Darren Morgan. “However it is still over 200,000 down on pre-pandemic levels, while a large number of workers remain on furlough.

“As the economy gradually reopened, the unemployment rate fell in [the period from] March to May. This was especially marked for younger people, who had been hardest hit by earlier lockdowns.”

But businesses have warned filling is the rising job vacancies is proving a challenge due to staff and skills shortages.

“Businesses’ ability to meet this demand, and support the recovery, is being challenged by staff shortages. As Covid cases rise, firms are facing the double difficulty of hiring workers and more employees self-isolating,” said Matthew Percival, the Confederation of British Industry’s director for people and skills.

“Longer term, firms must continue to strengthen inclusion while investing in skills and automation. And government can help by ensuring that the qualifications it funds include those in short supply.”

Yesterday the independent Green Jobs Taskforce called for the UK government to invest in employee skills. UK energy and climate change minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “We need to invest in the UK’s most important asset – its workforce – so that our people have the right skills to deliver a green industrial revolution and thrive in the jobs it will create.”

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