UK job vacancies at record high as wages pick up

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Job vacancies have hit a record high as the UK's labour market continues to "rebound robustly", according to the latest official figures.

The number of vacancies hit 953,000 in the three months to July, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The unemployment rate fell to 4.7% in the three months to June, while the annual growth in average pay was 7.4%.

However, the ONS urged caution in reading too much into the rise in wages.

ONS deputy statistician Jonathan Athow told the BBC that while the rise in average pay "hasn't been that high for a long time", it also compares to last year when millions of people were on furlough and were not being paid their full wage.

"This time last year we had millions of people on furlough many getting 80% of their wages, other people having their hours cut, and that pushed wages down," he said.

"So when we look at wages this year, when people have come back from furlough, it's really been boosted by the fact that last year wages were quite low. Some of this group was just wages returning to the level before the pandemic."

The ONS said payrolls rose by 182,000 between June and July, although at 28.9 million it is still 201,000 lower than before the pandemic struck.

The number of people on payroll has now grown over half a million in the past three months, regaining about four-fifths of the fall seen at the start of the pandemic.

'We are desperate for candidates'

Image source, OllieBrightman

Ollie Brightman, co-owner of a digital marketing agency in Bristol, says he has been struggling to recruit staff due to the competitive jobs market.

The 35-year-old told Radio 5 Live's Your Call programme hiring freelancers was a good short-term solution for his agency, but "very expensive" in the long term.

"We are absolutely desperate for all matter of digital marketing candidates at the moment. Pretty much anyone within those industries we are crying out for," he said.

However, John Parmenter, a carpenter from Hertfordshire, has been benefitting from the demand for skilled workers. He has seen his hourly rate shoot up from £19 on average, to between £25 and £30 in the past few months.

The 53-year-old said he was getting called "every few hours" by agencies.

"It's quite a nice feeling," he said. "It's the first time it's ever happened in 30 years. They ask what you want, not what they're paying. It's a nice change.

"During the lockdown, with the pandemic, unfortunately I wasn't entitled to any payments so I'm just trying to reap some money back to try and pay off some existing bills that have escalated. I just don't know what's round the corner so we're just going to surf it and make the most of it."

Overall, Mr Athow said the "world of work continues to rebound robustly" from the pandemic.

He said that early survey figures show that the number of job vacancies passed one million for the first time ever in July.

Arts, leisure and food service firms were among those making a big contribution to the surge in job openings.

"There was no sign of redundancies starting to pick up in our survey data ahead of the furlough scheme beginning to wind down, and Insolvency Service figures for July suggest the same," Mr Athow added.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: "I know there could still be bumps in the road but the data is promising - there are now more employees on payrolls than at any point since March 2020 and the number of people on furlough is the lowest since the scheme launched."

Ruth Gregory, senior UK economist at Capital Economics, said the jobs data should calm fears that the ending of government support measures could send unemployment higher.

"The figures add weight to our view that there won't be a big shake-out in employment once the furlough scheme expires at the end of September.

"It was encouraging that PAYE employment in July rose by 182,000 month-on-month and the claimant count fell by 7,800 month-on-month leaving the claimant count rate unchanged at 5.7%," she said.

These figures show a jobs market in robust recovery as the economy reopens and the furlough scheme starts to be phased out. Employment is up on all measures, unemployment down and experimental numbers in the month of July showed there are over one million vacancies.

There are record numbers of unfilled jobs, in sectors such as entertainment, accommodation and food, underlining the concerns of industry on labour shortages.

The number of payroll jobs reported on the HMRC systems is now very close to its pre pandemic level at 28.9 million now compared with 29 million in March 2020. That number is up 576,000 over the past year and 182,000 up in July alone.

The growth in that varies considerably between regions, with holiday areas such as Cornwall and west Wales showing annual rates of growth of around 5%, far above the rates in major cities.

The chancellor welcomed the figures as "promising". Analysts warned that the unemployment figures would rise as the furlough scheme continued to be phased out. But the peak unemployment rate is on course to be significantly lower than had been expected last year.

Yael Selfin, chief economist at KPMG UK, said: "The labour market outperformed expectations as the economy accelerated with the relaxation of Covid-related restrictions.

"Changes to the business environment, such as the fall in business travel and the rise in online commerce, increased the need for skills, from IT specialists to hauliers, while at the same time caused an unusually high level of mismatch in the UK's labour market."

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