Job opportunities lacking despite labour shortage

An IFS study shows that the jobs recovery is patchy and linked more to traditionally lower paid roles.

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Job vacancy levels are patchy across the economy, according to a new study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which says that, while vacancies are high in areas such as logistics and hospitality, the majority are facing greater competition to find jobs than they did pre-pandemic.

The study estimates that, for 64% of unemployed workers, competition for relevant new job openings is at least 10% greater than pre-pandemic, something that could worsen if some of the still-furloughed workers join the pool of unemployed jobseekers when the scheme ends. It says: “The handful of high-profile labour-shortage occupations – while real, and causing real problems for the supply of certain goods – should not mislead us into thinking that worker power is back.”

The report estimates that for nearly three-quarters of the workforce, opportunities were below 30% of their usual level in the Spring of 2020. That compares with 14% of workers who were actually furloughed or laid off.

Although overall job vacancies now slightly exceed their pre-pandemic levels, because the mix of occupations being advertised is not the same as it was before the pandemic, the IFS  estimates that new job opportunities remain more than 10% below pre-pandemic levels for a quarter of the workforce (or 8.1 million people).

It says the recent recovery in vacancies has been strongest in traditionally lower-paid occupations, with vacancies in the lowest-paying third of occupations (according to pre-pandemic wage levels) now 19% higher than pre-pandemic, while vacancies in other occupations have only just returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The IFS says: “The broad picture of buoyant vacancies in aggregate, but shortfalls of new job openings for many people alongside significant increases in opportunities for a minority, is seen across education levels, age groups and ethnicities. This suggests that a granular approach to tracking the labour market recovery and supporting those who are struggling will be necessary: a focus simply on broad groups (such as ‘the young’) may have a place, but it will not be enough. Much currently depends on the specific skill sets people have and the line of work they are in.”

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