UK businesses call for visa easing as vacancies soar

Job vacancies in the UK in the second quarter of the year surged past the total available before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, according to official figures published on Thursday.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recorded 862,000 vacancies in Q2 of this year - 77,500 more than in the first three months of 2020.ONS data showed the sudden rise had been driven by vacancies in hospitality and retailing - two of the sectors worst hit by pandemic lockdowns and the Brexit exodus of EU workers.Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak hailed the figures as evidence that government policies were working. “As we approach the final stages of reopening the economy, I look forward to seeing more people back at work and the economy continuing to rebound," he said.“We are bouncing back – the number of employees on payrolls is at its highest level since last April and the number of people on furlough halved in the three months to May."But the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said the rise in vacancies was evidence of the need to both upskill the indigenous workforce and for the government to adopt a more flexible immigration system to attract overseas workers.And the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the government should update its Shortage Occupation List to enable more foreign workers to be recruited to avoid "acute" skills shortages.The ONS also said the number of people on payrolls grew by 356,000 in June - the largest increase since the onset of the pandemic - with NE and NW England, the East Midlands and Northern Ireland seeing some of the biggest rises.However, the ONS said the number on payrolls stood at 28.9 million, 206,000 below pre-pandemic levels, mainly because many workers remained on the government's furlough scheme.Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, said: “The labour market is continuing to recover, with the number of employees on payroll up again strongly in June. However it is still over 200,000 down on pre-pandemic levels, while a large number of workers remain on furlough.“The number of job vacancies continued to rise very strongly. The biggest sector driving this was hospitality, followed by wholesaling and retailing.“As the economy gradually reopened, the unemployment rate fell in March to May. This was especially marked for younger people, who had been hardest hit by earlier lockdowns.”Suren Thiru, head of economics at the BCC, said the figures showed that the jobs market had continued to improve as the economy gradually reopened.But he added: “The rise in vacancies confirms the ongoing struggle to hire staff. The recruitment difficulties faced by firms go well beyond temporary bottlenecks and with many facing an increasing skills gap, staff shortages may drag on any recovery.“More needs to be done to ensure businesses have access to skills when these can’t be recruited locally, including access to rapid and agile training and re-skilling opportunities for adults in the workforce and a more flexible immigration system which allows firms to access the high and low skilled workers they need.”Matthew Percival, director for people and skills at the CBI, said the fact vacancies were now exceeding pre-pandemic levels was further proof of demand returning and of employers creating jobs.“Yet businesses’ ability to meet this demand, and support the recovery, is being challenged by staff shortages," he added. "As Covid cases rise, firms are facing the double difficulty of hiring workers and more employees self-isolating.“Short-term, aligning planned changes to self-isolation to the reopening and including a test and release mechanism will help. To ease acute shortages the government should also immediately update its Shortage Occupation Lists to include jobs ranging from butchers and bricklayers to welders.“Longer term, firms must continue to strengthen inclusion while investing in skills and automation. And government can help by ensuring that the qualifications it funds include those in short supply.”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

Subscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online Directory

Related Articles