Employment

Record vacancies show Covid jobs boost but some still face ‘tricky autumn’

New labour market figures break one million vacancies barrier for the first time but workers on furlough still face “difficult transition” when the scheme ends next month, experts warn

Vacancies have soared to a record high as the economy continues to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, but experts have warned a skills “mismatch” means there is still a “tricky autumn” ahead for workers in hospitality and starting out their careers.

The Office for National Statistics’ latest labour market figures showed there were an estimated 953,000 job vacancies between May and July this year, up 290,000 on the previous quarter and 168,000 than the quarter before the pandemic hit in 2020. Single-month vacancy estimates and Adzuna online job adverts also soared beyond one million for the first time, ONS statisticians said.

There was further encouraging news with the number of employees on payrolls rising to almost 29 million – though still lagging 200,000 behind pre-Covid levels, while the unemployment rate fell from 4.9 to 4.7 per cent.

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But while job openings continue to appear during the economic recovery, not everyone could see a boost in opportunities, warned Matt Whittaker, chief executive of Pro Bono Economics, with a risk hospitality staff, young workers and those with low qualifications could miss out. 

“The key thing here is a mismatch across the country and across sectors,” said Whittaker. “We’ve reopened the economy but because a lot of people are still working from home, city centres are pretty quiet and footfall is low so the cafes, the restaurants, the bars are just not seeing that pick up.

“So if you are someone who happens to be working in that sector in that part of the country then there is a risk that the wider economic rebound will pass you by. At the moment we’re not seeing the full weight of that because people are still on furlough but the clock is ticking and when that comes to an end it seems inevitable that there will be some spike in redundancies.

“The bigger picture is that we are on the road to recovery but there will be pockets of people, particularly on lower incomes in the hospitality sector and younger people and people with lower qualifications where it is going to be a tricky autumn.”

Whittaker also shared research from Pro Bono showing the number of vacancies to be much lower than the number of employees on furlough in July. Sectors such as accommodation and food services, wholesale and retail and vehicle repair and manufacturing were all affected by the discrepancy. 

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, also said the jobs recovery is “moving in the right direction”, citing a sharp increase in employment for young people as hospitality jobs returned with the end of most coronavirus restrictions across the UK.

But he added: “To ensure the job recovery doesn’t run out of steam, we need to do more to link those out of work with available vacancies, particularly given significant numbers of people remained furloughed ahead of the scheme’s closure in September.”

The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign has been warning of a rise in homelessness once the furlough scheme is withdrawn at the end of the September, when the £20-per-week universal credit increase is also set to end.

And while young people returning to work boosted job figures in July, there remains half a million youngsters unemployed and vulnerable to the upcoming changes in support, warned youth homelessness charity Centrepoint.

The number of 16-24 year olds out of work for more than a year has also increased by 50 per cent since the pandemic began, rising by 34,000 since April to June 2020.

“With levels of unemployment still higher than before the pandemic and many getting left behind, we can’t afford to be complacent, especially with the threat of further layoffs looming when the furlough scheme ends next month,” said Paul Noblet, Centrepoint’s government and parliamentary affairs lead.

“With young people also facing the loss of a quarter of their universal credit when the temporary uplift ends next month, it’s vital that ministers look again at how best to support vulnerable young people.”

The Big Issue is offering free training and job search help to anyone who needs it with our new RORA Jobs and Training Toolkit. Sign up to receive a free three-month digital subscription to The Big Issue, access to dozens of free or discounted online training courses and the ability to search hundreds of thousands of jobs.

If you are out of work or worried about work and looking for immediate, practical advice call The Big Issue Jobs helpline on 0204 534 2810 or email RORAhelp@momentagroup.com

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