UK job vacancies have recovered to the level before the first lockdown in April with hiring boosted by the reopening of non-essential shops, pubs and client-facing services such as hairdressers.
The number of online job adverts posted on 9 April matched the average for February 2020 and was the highest level seen since 6 March 2020, before the first national lockdown, according to data provided by the job search engine Adzuna and published on Thursday by the Office for National Statistics.
Hiring was strong in sectors that have prospered during the pandemic, such as construction and logistics, but it rose the most in sectors that were preparing to reopen on April 12, such as hospitality and retail.
Howard Archer, chief economic adviser at the EY Item Club, a consultancy, said: “It does appear that the opening up of the economy and marked increase in business confidence is lifting near-term employment plans.”
He added that he expected unemployment to “rise a little” when the furlough scheme ends in September, but the peak looked set to be “much lower” than previously feared.
With a strong housing market and an unprecedented shift to online shopping, vacancies in construction and logistics were between 60 per cent and 90 per cent of their pre-pandemic levels.
However, one of the largest increases between April 1 and 9 was “catering and hospitality”, where vacancies rose 10 percentage points to 58 per cent of their February 2020 average level, and the highest since March 2020, following an uptick in recent weeks.
Jo Ferreday, managing director of the UK hospitality and events company Sheer Edge, said she had seen a “marked shift” in the number of companies seeking to book and organise events in recent weeks.
“Many hospitality businesses are beginning to hire staff so that they can hit the ground running when things hopefully return to normal in the not-too-distant future,” Ferreday added.
The largest increase in job vacancies was in Scotland, where the number of online job adverts rose by 12 percentage points to 102 per cent of their February 2020 average level.
London was second. However, the number of job postings in the capital relative to February 2020 levels was lower than all other regions, reflecting the drop in hospitality and retail sector operations in city centres following the shift to homeworking.
The ONS also reported that the proportion of people on furlough dropped 1 percentage point to 17 per cent of the private sector workforce in the two weeks to 4 April compared with the previous fortnight.
The figure, based on the biweekly ONS survey of businesses, corresponds to 5.7m people still being paid with government money. However, this is well below the peak during the first lockdown when nearly 9m workers were furloughed.
The marginal fall in the number on furlough during March helps explain the labour market’s resilience during the pandemic despite the UK suffering the biggest drop in GDP in more than 300 years in 2020.
The ONS started publishing vacancies data from the job site Adzuna in May 2020 for a more timely indicator of the labour market than official statistics.
The latest ONS data showed that UK unemployment edged up only slightly to 5 per cent in the three months to January compared with 3.8 per cent in the same period the previous year, a 45-year low.