‘Pause for thought’ ONS report of rise in vacancies leads to calls for focus on training and retention

In a time of economic worry, a cost-of-living crisis and where it might feel that the jobs market is in crisis too, new figures from the ONS appear to bring a ray of sunshine into a previously gloomy situation...
July 05, 2023

The ONS figures show that the number of payroll employees is now above pre-pandemic levels, with the number of vacancies in March to May 2023 at 1,051,000, a decrease of 79,000 from December 2022 to February 2023. It was the 11th consecutive period that vacancies had fallen – surely good news…

However, many business leaders have warned that rather than resting on the information as ‘good news’, companies need to do more to retain, train and encourage new staff through clear talent support and programmes.

Those who responded to the survey cited economic pressures as a factor in holding back on recruitment, leaving the question as to whether the rise in vacancies is a cause for celebration, or merely an indication that things are moving in the right direction but need to keep moving, and possibly move faster?

After all, recruitment is arguably just the beginning of the process – while vacancies rise, they will only stay higher if those who are recruited are nurtured, treated well and therefore choose to stay long-term.

On the face of things, the ONS survey is positive news, citing that “The UK employment rate was estimated at 76.0% in February to April 2023, 0.2 percentage points higher than November 2022 to January 2023. The number of people in employment increased to a record high in the latest quarter with increases in both the number of employees and self-employed workers.”

Commenting on the statistics, Neil Carberry, Chief Executive of the Recruitment and Employment Federation (REC), said: “The jobs market remains reassuringly resilient in the face of economic headwinds and sluggish growth. While employers are feeling uncertain about the future, they still need to hire, in part because of ongoing labour shortages. These shortages are combining with high inflation and changes to the National Living Wage to drive very strong pay growth.

“For jobseekers, this should be a welcome picture – there are opportunities out there to get into work or move to raise wages. For companies, there is little sign of a change from the need to really focus on their talent strategy – recruiters are here to help with this, including changing the mix of skills as firms invest more in technology. For policy makers, this picture of shortages should be a concern, as it is likely to constrain a recovery in growth. An industrial strategy that includes workforce thinking is essential to tackling economic inactivity, developing new skills and a pragmatic approach to immigration.”

But it also might not necessarily follow that a decline in vacancies means a rise in roles being filled. For some, it might be that there are fewer vacancies listed as companies stretch other staff members in order to try and save budget.

And Meghan Farren, General Manager, KFC UK & Ireland added that ‘while the labour market figures show the number of people in employment is rising and vacancies are falling, what they don’t show are the skills and training needed to keep businesses and industries moving.’ The key is to support younger talent, and create social mobility in ‘all corners of the UK’.

She said: “65% of our 29,000-strong workforce are under the age of 25, so we know all too well the barriers young people face when they enter the world of work and the skills they need to adapt to the workplace. Through our youth employability programme Hatch, we’re calling for focused investment from businesses and government to give the next generation the tools, skills and support they need to enter and thrive in the workplace.”

And what about staff retention? While there might be more vacancies, other leaders have warned that the impact on longer term growth is still an issue.

Original Article: HR Grapevine

The increase in job vacancies indicates a demand for specific skills in the job market. For all your recruitment challenges – contact our HR & digital recruitment specialist Gareth Allison on 02920 620702

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