Is this the toughest jobs market ever?

With more than 200 people applying for a job in a coffee shop recently, are we experiencing the worst jobs market ever?

There’s no doubt that whether you’re a barista or a barrister, now is probably not the best time to throw caution to the wind and quit because you fancy a career change. If you are a barrister, you may not get the ideal change you imagined. In fact, you might actually end up a barista – although with 1,701 people applying for eight jobs at Costa Coffee recently in Nottingham, you probably wouldn’t get a job doing that either!

This story of a bun fight for jobs in a café – where staff earn a little over £7 and hour – certainly makes grim reading, but are we really living through the toughest job market of all time? The all-pervading pessimism would suggest as much, but the facts are a little different. A variety of statistics released over the past month actually suggest that the UK job market is showing signs of improvement.


Employees up

First of all, if we look at the actual number of people in work, the total rose by 154,000 in the last quarter of 2012 to almost 30 million, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. However, youth unemployment rose by 11,000, the highest for a year, to 974,000, while the number of people with more than one job – how greedy! – increased by 41,000 to 1.1 million.

So, although the job situation overall might be improving, it’s not much of a consolation if you’re just starting out on your career journey. A chink of light is just visible against the darkness, however, with recent research from job search engine Adzuna revealing that the number of vacancies for work in the UK is 4% higher than it was in August 2012, standing at 491,299. But a fifth of these new roles were part-time, and over the same period the average advertised wage dropped by 4.4% to £33,166 a year.

More vacancies may be on the table, but many are not full-time and on the whole they seem to be paying less. Of course, in a crowded job market and a tough economic climate this would make perfect sense.

There’s no doubting that finding a job, particularly if you’re young, is incredibly tough, but more people in work and rising numbers of vacancies does at least suggest things are improving and that the jobseeking climate is probably not the worst ever.


Where to look

For those out of work, Adzuna’s research provides a few hints about which sectors jobseekers are most likely to find work. The sector currently with the most vacancies is IT, so this could be the best place to start looking, although 21% are part-time. The next three sectors with the most available jobs respectively are healthcare and nursing, engineering, and accounting and finance.

It is also a relief to know that the 200 applicants Costa received for each of its barista vacancies doesn’t mean that there are this many jobseekers available per job across the board. Adzuna’s research suggests that there are in fact 3.2 people looking for work for each vacancy in the UK. The bad news is that this varies wildly depending on where you live. The two worst cases are Hull, which has nearly 60 jobseekers per vacancy, and the Wirral, with almost 46. Conversely, in Aberdeen and Cambridge there are more jobs available than those looking for work, with the vacancy to jobseeker ratio being 0.35 and 0.65 respectively. Although this kind of geographical variation is frightening, at least it shows the places in which people stand the best chance of finding work.

More good news comes from research by law firm Speechly Bircham and King’s College London. Surveying senior human resources professionals in more than 300 organisations, it found that 46% reported a rise in recruitment in 2012 over the previous year, while 45% expected to see an increase in the size of their workforce in 2013. Respondents did, however, indicate that employees expect to work longer hours and be under more pressure, with pay rises few and far between.


Good news for grads

Finally, although it could well be true that it has never been tougher to be a young jobseeker, this situation has been tipped to improve this year by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR). Following a slump in graduate vacancies in 2012, AGR’s research suggests there will be a 9% rise in 2013, while average starting salaries are predicted to rise 1.9% to £26,500. And if this prediction is true, it will be the first time this has happened for five years.

For AGR chief executive Carl Gilleard, this is a clear sign that things are improving. “The results indicate a renewed level of optimism among organisations for the year ahead,” he told the Guardian. “With the graduate job market inextricably linked to business confidence, it’s reassuring to see that employers are committed to investing in graduate talent despite the backdrop of continuing global economic uncertainty.”

Let’s hope he’s right…

1 Comment

  1. Robert Poulter March 26, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    A good post, but not one mention of the skilled and professional older job seeker who is now out of work and looking.
    We have already done our apprenticeships and our training and now we find ourselves out of work with no help what so ever to get back in the employment market.

Leave a comment (*required fields)