Post-pandemic recovery continues with the number of job vacancies between July to September 2021 reaching record levels of 1.1 million. 

According to new data by the Office for National Statistics, the number of job vacancies in July to September 2021 hit a record high of over 1.1 million.

This marks an increase of 318,000 vacancies from its pre-pandemic January to March 2020 level, signalling recovery in the labour market following the crisis.

This growth was seen across the vast majority of sectors with 12 in 18 categories displaying a record number of job roles.

Wholesale and retail trade witnessed the largest quarterly increase in job vacancies, rising by a third (32.4 per cent).

Other industries also saw large increases in vacancy numbers, namely accommodation and food service activities (24,600), professional, scientific and technical activities (24,400) and manufacturing (20,300).

Despite this, although the employment rate reached 75.3 per cent – rising from the previous quarter – this was ultimately down compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Similarly, the unemployment rate, which dipped to 4.5 per cent, remains 0.5 percentage points higher than before the pandemic.

However, young people’s prospects showed an improvement during this time. Despite being heavily affected by unemployment during the crisis, there was a record increase in the employment rate and decreases in the unemployment and inactivity rates for young people this quarter.

Total actual weekly hours worked in the UK also witnessed an increase of 39.9 million hours from the previous quarter, leading this to rise to 1.02 billion hours in June to August 2021.

This coincided with the relaxing of coronavirus lockdown measures, which had stalled the recent recovery in total hours.

Chief Executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) Neil Carberry noted the recovery but stated the uptick in vacancies “cannot last forever”:

We can see demand for staff rising to another record high in these figures, with vacancies in every sector now at or above pre-pandemic levels.

The current shortage crises are driving a sugar rush in the labour market, but this cannot last forever.

It’s vital that government works with business to put policies in place that help deliver sustainable growth and drive up UK’s productivity and prosperity levels. That means investing in skills, especially at lower levels, supporting younger people into work, and helping firms to compete internationally.

Joanne Frew, Head of Employment Law at DWF, stated that the impact of the furlough scheme is yet to be seen:

With the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme officially closed from the end of September 2021 we are yet to see the impact on the labour market; on a positive note the latest ONS figures show the redundancy rate remains at pre-pandemic levels.

The government has launched a £500 million Plan for Jobs expansion in the hope of mitigating the impact of the end of furlough.  Although clearly a step in the right direction, it may be too little too late for some of the hardest hit sectors, such as the travel industry.

As we look ahead at the UK labour market, much will depend on how the autumn and winter months unfold.  The government has set out its Covid-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan 2021 detailing a roadmap based on the number of infections and the impact on the NHS.  If Plan A comes to fruition and restrictions can be kept to a minimum, we expect the labour market to remain relatively robust.

*This research has been outlined in the ONS’ “Employment in the UK: October 2021” report.