Another quarter, another vacancies record

The number of job vacancies in the UK hit a yet another new high in the last quarter of 2021 as companies reported increasing problems hiring the skills they needed.

Map of the UK
The number of job vacancies in the UK hit a yet another new high in the last quarter of 2021 as companies reported increasing problems hiring the skills they needed.The Office for National Statistics (ONS) put the total of vacancies at 1.24 million between October and December: a figure 462,000 higher than the three months before the pandemic struck in 2020.Meanwhile, the unemployment rate fell to 4.1% - close to the pre-pandemic low - as companies added 184,000 people to their payrolls between November and December, taking the total to 29.5 million.The ONS data, published on Tuesday, came after the latest 'Recruitment Outlook' report from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) found that an all-time high of 79% of the 5,400 firms surveyed reported difficulties in finding staff.The report said that companies cited a lack of foreign nationals to recruit and disruption caused by the pandemic as prime reasons why they could not hire the staff they needed.
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Although hospitality and construction firms were the hardest hit, the survey found that all sectors of the economy were facing "significant issues" over recruitment.Jane Gratton, head of people policy at the BCC, said the survey revealed the continuing recruitment problem facing companies and the risk it posed to economic recovery.“The record level of firms struggling to fill job vacancies in the quarter will have impacted on businesses’ ability to meet demand for goods and services - adding to already acute supply chain pressures," she said.“More business investment in home-grown talent and creating a more inclusive and diverse workforce is key to solving pervasive skills shortages, but this won’t happen overnight.“The government must do all it can to ensure people can access rapid retraining opportunities for in-demand jobs, issue temporary visas for lower skilled jobs - where there is clear evidence of a national shortage - and ensure there are no further up-front costs on business for the remainder of this parliament.”According to a survey of more than 400 senior executives last week by accountants RSM, more than a third of businesses have had to delay expansion plans because of staffing shortages, with a similar number saying the problem had resulted in their having to turn down business.Almost two-thirds of companies in the survey reported that finding the skills they needed was either 'extremely' or 'very' challenging, with more than 40% saying they had increased salaries as a result.One side-effect of this "war for talented staff" has been an unexpected boom for recruitment companies, according to a report in the Financial Times (FT)."Full-year results from UK-listed recruiters PageGroup, Robert Walters and Hays provided details of the scale of the challenge facing bosses, as they fight to keep their own staff and poach others from rivals with ever higher wage offers," reported the newspaper."Staff shortages and job moves have been caused by a number of factors, from longer-term issues with the lack of skills training for roles in technology to the short-term effects of the pandemic, which has caused many people to rethink their careers or seek out employers with more flexible working options."Robert Walters and Hays said profits for their financial years would beat market expectations, with net fee income growing by about a third in the last quarter for both companies.Alan Bannatyne, Robert Walters’ finance director, told the FT that workers were being offered wage increases of up to a quarter to move jobs, pointing to particularly strong demand among white-collar roles in law and finance.Steve Ingham, CEO at Page, said his company had seen similar wage increases in the technology and digital sectors, reflecting the drive by companies to transform their operations during the pandemic.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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