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Bounce Back Britain: Hiring hits pre-pandemic levels

To say the last twelve months have been a rollercoaster for the UK job market would be an understatement. We’ve witnessed the largest fall in employment since the early 1990s & GDP plummeting by 9.9% in 2020. Hiring activity dropped by up to 90% in some sectors. At the peak of the crisis, one third of all British workers were either on furlough or reduced hours.

As so often is the case, young people and minority groups have borne the brunt of this economic crisis and there is a good deal of uncertainty around what will happen to the labour market as the Government’s furlough scheme begins to winds down this summer.

But now, on this bright and chilly April morning, I have cause for optimism.

For the first time in well over a year, analysis by Adzuna & the Office for National Statistics shows total online job adverts reached 100% of their February 2020 average level, a 3 percentage point increase from the 1st April 2021. In layman’s terms, this is the highest volume of online job adverts we’ve seen since the 6th March 2020, before the first national lockdown was imposed across the UK. Great news, a significant milestone and a clear sign that British employers are bouncing back and hiring again. Hiring activity and candidate traffic on Adzuna has rocketed in recent weeks, so if you’d like to get your jobs on the platform and be part of the upswing, you can do that quickly and easily here.

Not all industries have fared the same of course; there are still hard yards to be fought in a number of sectors. The largest increases so far this month have been in “legal” and “catering and hospitality”, which rose by 12 percentage points and 10 percentage points respectively. This is the highest volume of online jobs for “catering and hospitality” seen since 20th March 2020, following a marked uptick in recent weeks as Britain began to ‘unlock’. Another notable increase was recorded in “healthcare and social care”, rising by 8 percentage points.

Source: Coronavirus and the latest indicators for the UK economy: 15th April 2021

Regionally, we’ve seen a mixed picture but the overall hiring trajectory has been a positive one since June of last year. Notably, London continues to lag behind all other regions due to the city’s dependence on retail and service industry roles. With premises opening back up this week, we’re already seeing a steep climb and London catching up (+6% over the last week). The largest increase over the past two weeks was recorded in Scotland, where the volume of online job adverts rose by 12 percentage points to 102% of their February 2020 average level, the highest volume recorded for Scotland since 13th February 2020. 

Source: Coronavirus and the latest indicators for the UK economy: 15th April 2021

What happens next? 

A relenting virus, the job retention scheme, emergency measures, labour market flexibility and the stoicism of employers themselves appear to have helped avert a major job market catastrophe in Britain. Hiring levels are finally back to pre-pandemic levels, albeit via a very different looking labour market. The improvements hinge on the continued easing of restrictions and a recovering economy, but I am tentatively optimistic that this could herald the start of a new chapter for jobseekers.

How do we kick on from here?

1) Keep the virus at bay  Without question the biggest possible thing we can do. No Covid 19 = more people getting back to work and rising consumer, business and employer confidence. It’s clear that vaccine measures are having a brilliant and positive effect – the future though, will be unpredictable.   

2) Provide good quality help to young people and the newly unemployed – We escape from this labour market crisis by mobilising the public and private sector. This requires continued government funding, investment in skills, inclusive recruitment and much, much more. Disadvantaged groups will need greater support. Many people will need to retrain, with huge shifts expected between sectors and potentially localities. Government and third party work programmes may need to be scaled up even more, potentially at great expense to address the national need and to keep the recruitment fires burning.

3) Technology will play a major role – This recession has the potential to be different from previous ones. If we approach the recovery like we did with the financial crisis 10 years ago, we will fail. We have the technology to analyse the data and engage with citizens like never before. Digital tools offer the ability to see and adapt to job market data in real time, to connect jobseekers and employers, to connect people with training. This means technology leaders like Adzuna can help people get back to work faster, offer jobseekers and employers a better experience, and all at orders of magnitude lower cost. 

Online and digital tools are accessible, user friendly, cost-effective and scalable compared with manual provision and it’s clear that we, and many other technology companies, are extremely motivated to get the country hiring again. Now is the time for our industry to shine and there’s simply never been a more exciting moment for tech companies big and small to position themselves for the upswing and make a real difference to employment, inclusivity and livelihoods across Britain.    


Andrew Hunter is co-founder of Adzuna and a regular commentator on the global jobs market. Adzuna provides labour market data to the Department for Work & Pensions, Number 10, the ONS and The Bank of England. You can learn more about Adzuna and post your jobs in over 16 different countries here