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ONS job market data: July 2020 | Recruitment News UK

The ONS releases figures for March to May of this year; eBoss looks at a changing UK job market.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published employment data for March to May 2020. The period, which represents the focal point of disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, reveals sharp changes in underlying trends. The report is therefore vital reading for recruiters as they plan their near-term goals.


The biggest headline of this month’s report is undoubtedly the sharp decline in unfilled vacancies. Recruiters in particular will need to reassess how they generate sales opportunities and consider ways to increase efficiencies on jobs.

There were an estimated 333,000 unfilled vacancies in the UK jobs market during the period of study. This is the lowest total amount since 2001. The extent of the job market contraction is matched by the pace. Current levels show a 59.9 per cent fall in the number of vacancies compared to twelve months earlier. However, the vast majority of that decline has happened within the last three months. Vacancies contracted by 58.1 per cent on the previous quarter.

The largest declines by sector were in food services and automotive. Catering roles slumped by 91.1 per cent; the automotive industry (including maintenance and repairs) dropped by 70 per cent.


Employment remained largely stable throughout the period – perhaps a testament to the effectiveness of furloughing schemes. 76.4 per cent of working age Britons were in work. While this indicates a 0.2 per cent fall from the previous quarter, the total is actually 0.3 per cent higher than the same period in 2019. In total, 32.95 million people aged 16 years or over were in employment.


A second sign of slight optimism can be found among unemployment data. An estimated 1.35 million people were recorded as unemployed between March and May – 3.9 per cent of working age Britons. This is 55,000 more than a year earlier – or a 0.1 per cent increase. However, the number of unemployed actually decreased from the previous quarter. 17,000 fewer people were claiming unemployment benefits during the period of study.


Wages continued to increase, but earnings growth fell below the rate of inflation for the first time in six years.

Regular pay increased by 0.7 per cent in the period of study. However, when adjusted for inflation, the figure represents a slight contraction in earnings, of around 0.2 per cent. Total pay (including bonuses) fell even further: by 1.3 per cent in real terms. This is the slowest wage growth since April 2014. The witholding of bonuses during the crisis is the most likely explanation of these changes to earners’ fortunes.

Weekly Hours

Average weekly hours fell by 5.5 hours in the period of study. This works out as an average working week of 26.7 hours per person. However, in some sectors, the affect of lockdown was far greater. The food services industry worked just 26 hours per week during the period.

The total number of actual hours worked per week fell to 877.1 million – a fall of 175.3 million. This is the lowest amount of total hours worked since 1997 – and the sharpest fall since records began in 1971.

Job market trends

The main headache for recruiters will come when looking at those vacancies statistics. There is no two ways of putting it: competition will be fierce in the coming months.

The irony is the sudden reversal in the nature of the jobs market, forcing many recruiters to no doubt re-think their existing strategies. For years, we have witnessed an increasingly lean jobs market for skills. Digital transformations called for highly specialised skill sets, and recruiters were faced with an abundance of roles and shortage of talent.

At present, the opposite may be true. A shortage of roles now requires firms to process increased competition among higher volumes of new and existing candidates. Flexibility in workflows and internal processes must now become the priority for businesses in the recruitment sector.

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