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Unemployment drops by 17,000 to 2.48 million

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The unemployment figures have surprised industry experts, after the Office of National statistics showed unemployment had fallen by 17,000 in the three months to the end of February.

This makes the official unemployment figure 2.48 million, according to the figures.

One week ahead of it's own report on jobs, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation's chief executive Kevin Green, said: "Unemployment is forecast to rise again, which suggests that the private sector is struggling to offset the job cuts being made in the public sector. Our latest Report on Jobs shows that vacancies rose to their highest rate since April last year and March was the 18th consecutive month in which vacancies have grown.

"The jobs market remains fragile and we do not expect to see any real decline in unemployment until the very end of 2011. "Looking ahead, the REC's JobsOutlook report, due out next week, shows a third of employers expect to increase their permanent workforce in the next year. This ties in with economic forecasts that private sector investment and trade are picking up and will accelerate in the second half of the year.

"The outlook for the end of 2011 is certainly brighter but it's vital that steps are taken now to ensure that we have a future fit workforce. Government and business must do all that they can to minimise job losses and maximise job creation, particularly amongst the young through apprenticeships and other work experience schemes."

Today's ONS showed the jobless rate among men had fallen, but had risen among women.

Youth unemployment stood at 963,000, with the jobless rate for young people remaining above 20%.

The number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance fell by 700 between February and March to 1.45 million, although for those in employment, total pay rose by 2% compared with a year earlier.

The news comes as figures released today by totaljobs.com reveal a further surprise growth in job vacancies with a steady acceleration in postings over Q1 - peaking at 134,000 jobs in March.

The end of the quarter saw the largest month- on-month gain for a year with 12% growth. Vacancies remain significantly below peak but the current rise demonstrates a strong recovery in the job market shows in recent months. However, analysis of recruiter and jobseeker activity shows that excess capacity from 2010 has yet to be soaked up and competition for jobs, which today averages 21 applications per position, is high and has risen steadily since June 2010.

With around 3.6 million jobseekers visitors each month, today's figures provide an indication of how UK recruitment is faring as the economy struggles for growth.

John Salt, a director at totaljobs.com commented on the figures:"We're surprised at the pace of the recovery, but we have a lot of ground to make up before the balance tips back in favour of jobseekers. It is still an employer's market, and competition for positions will remain high until jobs growth outstrips jobseeker demand.

"Our forecast for the second quarter is for a dip in activity due to Easter and the Royal Wedding, but we are confident that the recovery will continue and we can look forward to a period of solid growth. Our advice for jobseekers is to remain confident and not be daunted by the competition."