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ONS Job market data: March 2020 | Recruitment News UK

We assess the ongoing job market data trends for November 2019 to January 2020.

eBoss assesses recruitment trends in what is likely to be the penultimate report before the affects of coronavirus are seen.

Released last Tuesday (March 17), the most recent set of figures covers the period of November 2019 to January 2020. With government measures to combat the spread of the virus coming into affect around the second week of March, this suggests that next month’s ONS data will be the final report before the economic impact of closures and self-isolation are felt.

This places extra significance on the final reports, which now stand as a snapshot of the previous recruitment trends. By mid-May, we are likely to have a greater understanding of the true financial costs of the COVID-19 outbreak.

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The figures Show a return to record-high employment; a slight increase in those unemployed; and an increase in overall vacancies.


Employment rose again in the three months to January, putting overall employment at joint record-high levels. Total employment was estimated to be 76.5 per cent of the working age population (16-65). That is 0.4 per cent higher than the same period in 2018-19. It also represents a 0.3 per cent rise on the previous quarter.


Unemployment in the three months to January rose slightly compared to the previous quarter. This brings overall unemployment in the UK to an estimated 3.9 per cent at the end of January. That is 0.2 per cent higher than the figure in February’s report. However, it was essentially equal to the rate of unemployment for the same period a year earlier.


There was a rise in total number of job vacancies up to the end of January. The number of unfilled jobs had risen by an estimated 19,000 in the quarter, to 817,000. However, this figure represents a drop of 30,000 unfilled vacancies on the same period a year earlier.


Weekly earnings increased by 3.1 per cent for both standard pay and bonus pay. In real terms, wage growth stood at 1.5 per cent over the quarter – when adjusted to match inflation.

Job market trends

The data supplied by the ONS simply re-states the continuing trend of the past several years. That is: higher employment, stable or falling levels of unemployment, and a surplus of vacancies leaving many rolls unfilled.

However, this is likely to be the penultimate report to record such patterns.

The next set of data (released April 21) will be the final publication to report figures unaffected by the coronavirus outbreak. The ONS data to be released in mid-May will therefore begin to reflect the extraordinary impact of the global pandemic on the UK jobs market and the wider economy.

Although this set of figures would usually encourage agencies to continue with current strategies, it is self-evident that this is no longer the case. The experience on the ground heavily pre-empts the publication of the official data by several weeks in this case. Recruiters on the front line of the jobs market will know better than anyone of the impact of the coronavirus. Those who implement effective and flexible systems which can absorb lean months while also handling higher volumes of job orders are likely to meet the challenges of the coronavirus with the greatest success.

• Get the complete set of figures – including nice graphs and tables – by downloading the full ONS report. (pdf)

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