UK employment hits record high

The number of vacancies has hit the highest estimate since comparable records began in 2001, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS)

This number was at 870,000 for November 2018 to January 2019 – 16,000 more than for August to October 2018.

The unemployment rate was estimated at 4% for November 2018 to January 2019; it has not been lower since the period of December 1974 to February 1975. There were an estimated 1.36 million unemployed people, 14,000 fewer than for July to September 2018 and 100,000 fewer than a year earlier.

The employment rate was 75.8% between November 2018 and January 2019, higher than for a year earlier (75.2%) and the joint-highest since comparable estimates began in 1971. There were an estimated 32.6 million people in work, 167,000 more than for July to September 2018 and 444,000 more than for a year earlier.

Meanwhile, average weekly earnings for employees in the UK in real terms (adjusted for price inflation) increased by 1.2% excluding bonuses, and by 1.3% including bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

Jon Boys, labour market economist at the CIPD, said that both employment and wage growth are expected to remain strong. “[This] official data takes us up until the end of 2018. However, the CIPD’s more recent data suggests that employers expect that both employment and wage growth will stay strong throughout the first quarter of 2019. Nominal wage growth is being driven by the demand for skills. With low inflation expected to continue for most of the year we can expect a real-terms pay rise for many in 2019,” he said.

Boys added that access to skills could remain an issue: “For now most employers remain optimistic about their ability to take on new staff, but with Brexit just a matter of weeks away it’s uncertain how the mood will change after March.

"To prepare for this it’s vital that employers plan for a number of possible scenarios for their workforce. While there’s optimism around hiring, access to skills continues to be a challenge for employers. With fewer EU nationals working in the UK as the same time last year, it’s vital that the government recognises the need for a flexible post-Brexit migration system to avoid worsening skill and labour shortages.”

Commenting on the figures, REC director of policy Tom Hadley said that while he welcomed the news there could be issues ahead as Britain prepares to leave the EU. "Today’s figures once again highlight the resilience of the UK job market; with record vacancies and numbers of people in work. However, we cannot take this for granted as our data shows a significant downturn in businesses' confidence in the UK economy, which is already affecting future hiring intentions,” he said.

He added: “There is a real fear, as we are seeing in the UK manufacturing industry, that we will see lower growth and fewer opportunities in the future. The political uncertainty surrounding our future relationship with the EU is only compounding matters and putting off businesses from making future hiring plans and deterring foreign companies from investing in the UK. The sooner employers get some clarity the better it will be for our jobs market.”

HR should focus on recruitment strategies to attract the best candidates, said Jason Fowler, HR director, UK and Ireland at Fujitsu.

“With more people moving into employment the challenge for HR departments is to make sure they attract and select candidates that are best suited for each role. Recruitment and talent acquisition has always been about people, and in the digital age this firmly remains the case. But with competition for talent rife, personalised communication is fast becoming at the heart of talent acquisition,” he said.

“Rather than blasting out mass emails and calls without understanding potential candidates, a personalised approach to recruitment ensures we are able to properly foster and develop a relationship with potential candidates through each recruitment touchpoint – from first contact all the way through to when a potential candidate is hired.”

Others warned that while there are more people in work workers face increased insecurity. Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC, pointed out that real wages are still 1.9% lower than they were a decade earlier and that 844,000 people are still on zero-hours contracts.

“The government must put its power behind workers’ needs. We need a plan to restore job security and wages, with new laws to outlaw shady employment practices. And the prime minister must rule out a no-deal Brexit and ditch her red lines,” she said.