UK jobs market ramps up at fastest rate since 1990s as Covid curbs ease

Vacancies in London up sharply with quickest increase in starting pay in 26 months

Commuters walk along London Bridge in the UK. The monthly index of demand for workers from accountancy firm KPMG and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) rose to its highest level in just over 23 years in April. Bloomberg
Commuters walk along London Bridge in the UK. The monthly index of demand for workers from accountancy firm KPMG and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) rose to its highest level in just over 23 years in April. Bloomberg

Hiring activity among British employers soared in April at the fastest rate since the late 1990s as more parts of the economy reopened from the latest round of pandemic restrictions, according to a new study.

The monthly index of demand for workers from accountancy firm KPMG and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) rose to its highest level in just over 23 years last month, with permanent staff placements growing at the fastest rate since October 1997.

"We are bouncing back from a record low – and many people are still struggling – but the data shows that job creation is firing up again," Neil Carberry, REC's chief executive, said on Friday.

"The message for government and employers alike is that the long-term challenge is less likely to be high unemployment than attracting and training enough staff to keep our economy firing."

Non-essential shops and outdoor cafes and restaurants reopened in England on April 12, with further restrictions, including on international travel, set to be eased from May 17. Indoor hospitality and sporting events are also back on the cards.

In another positive sign for the labour market, the Bank of England said on Thursday it expected unemployment to rise only slightly to a peak of 5.4 per cent in the third quarter of this year from the 4.9 per cent jobless rate recorded in the three months through February.

London job vacancies also rose sharply in April, the KPMG and REC study found, with the rate of demand growth for permanent staff outpacing that of temporary workers for the second month running.

The rate of the acceleration in hiring from March was the joint highest in more than 23 years, tying with February 2010, while pressure on salaries strengthened with the quickest rise in permanent starting pay in 26 months.

Anna Purchas, senior partner at KPMG in London, said while there are positive signs as London emerges from lockdown hibernation, businesses in the capital will struggle to fill their vacancies unless they commit to reskilling and upskilling their current and prospective employees.

“This includes providing furloughed staff with training and working with recruiters to make sure a wide range of candidates are considered for jobs,” Ms Purchas said.

KPMG told its 16,000 UK staff earlier this week to work in the office two days a week or up to four days in a fortnight from next month, as the company chose to adopt a hybrid working model.

"As part of the firm's new hybrid way of working, from June onwards, the expectation will be that KPMG's people spend up to four days in the office spread over a fortnight, with the rest spent at home or at client sites," said KPMG’s Zoe Sheppard.

Almost 50 of Britain’s biggest firms plan to adopt a hybrid model of working once restrictions ease further, with staff set to divide the week between home and the office, according to a BBC survey.

However, Goldman Sachs Group asked its US employees to return to working in the office by mid-June and its UK staff must return by mid-July.

JP Morgan Chase & Co said last week it was expecting its US workers to return to the office on a rotational basis from July.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair said on Thursday that London will have a bigger challenge post-Covid than at any time in its recent history.

“It’s going to be hugely affected by people moving out of London because they believe they will be working more remotely in the future,” Mr Blair said.

Thirty-six per cent of employees in Britain did at least some work from home last year as the coronavirus outbreak closed many workplaces, a jump from around 26 per cent in 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics.

More on the UK employment

Half of 813,000 British jobs lost in Covid pandemic linked to under 25s

BoE: UK economy to grow 7.25% in 2021 as Covid curbs ease

City of London to convert empty office buildings into new homes

Updated: May 7, 2021 03:18 PM

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