Job vacancies in Britain climbed to a record in August, rising above 1 million for the first time, as the labor market continued its uneven recovery, according to data released Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics.
As Britain emerged from lockdowns the demand for workers has soared. Every sector is seeking more workers, with restaurants, bars, hotels and other accommodation and food businesses trying to hire the most over the summer.
It has helped push the unemployment rate down, to 4.6 percent, and has shrunk the number of people who are out of the work force.
Nearly a quarter of a million people were added to company payrolls in August, returning this part of the labor market (which doesn’t include the self-employed) to its prepandemic size, the statistics office said. But not every region had fully recovered. The number of employees was still down in London, in southeast England and in Scotland. And some of the workers on payroll were still receiving wage subsidies from the government’s furlough program.
The soaring vacancy rate has highlighted mismatches in the labor market. Even as people return to work, lots of businesses report they are struggling to hire. The staff they are looking for have either moved into different industries or left the country. And job seekers don’t have the right training or experience. Growth in the manufacturing sector has been hampered by the challenge of filling open positions. And businesses across Britain are running low on supplies because there are too few truck drivers.
Analysts predict that some of the gains in the labor market will be reversed when the furlough program ends this month, and employers can no longer rely on the government to top up staff wages up to 80 percent for the hours they don’t work. At the end of July, there were 484,000 employers with 1.6 million workers still on furlough. Layoffs are expected; a group representing the travel sector said more than two-thirds of businesses with staff on furlough expect to cut jobs when the program ends.
“With the furlough scheme ending in little over two weeks’ time, we should expect a fresh rise in unemployment this autumn, particularly among furloughed staff that aren’t able to return to their previous jobs,” Nye Cominetti, an economist at the Resolution Foundation, a think tank studying living standards, wrote in a note.
Samuel Tombs, an economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the end of the furlough program would increase unemployment and underemployment, as people can’t find as much work as they would like, despite the high number of vacancies.
“About 60 percent of staff on furlough are attached to small businesses employing fewer than 20 people, who are unlikely to have the financial strength to re-employ them for all their pre-Covid hours,” he wrote in a note to clients. Businesses with high vacancies are different from the ones using the furlough program, so people will need to retrain before they return to employment, he added, predicting that the unemployment rate would to rise to 5 percent later this year.