'We have six unfilled jobs but no one has applied'

·4 min read

"If we were to open up in full swing it would be at least 12 jobs unfilled, but it's six unfilled at the moment."

Mark Lee runs the Red Lion Country Inn, a B&B in Yorkshire, but like many employers he cannot find enough staff.

According to a survey of big recruitment firms, the number of permanent jobs available in England rose at its fastest rate since 1997 in June as the economy reopened.

But at the same time availability of workers hit a 24-year low.

Despite advertising on a range of sites, Mr Lee has not received a single application for jobs posted. Before the pandemic, he would frequently receive 50 or more applications per advert.

He has also used agencies to find staff, but when he asked for a sous chef they could only provide an employee who had never worked in a catering kitchen before. Paying above minimum wage, Mr Lee employs waiters and cleaners on £10 per hour, which increases to £13 for a sous chef.

KPMG and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) polled 400 recruitment companies in June and found "substantial increases" in permanent and temporary job vacancies across the Midlands, the South, London and the North.

The steepest increase in demand was seen for permanent private sector staff, particularly in the IT and computing, hotel and catering, and engineering sectors.

Demand was also "historically strong" across the public sector.

However, the survey found the supply of candidates had fallen for the fourth month in a row. Recruiters blamed increased hiring, Brexit, pandemic-related uncertainty and the furlough scheme.

Yael Selfin, chief economist at KPMG, told the BBC's Today programme: "We have seen the reopening of the economy and therefore there's a surge in demand, and not all the workers we were hoping to get are readily available.

"Some of them need to switch sector, some of them were looking after children before or were temporarily out of the jobs market. Some went into higher education or overseas."

Brian Lord, chief executive of cybersecurity and intelligence consultancy PGI, has encountered the same issue in the IT sector.

"Covid has been the main driver in demand because remote working has meant more vulnerability for organisations," Mr Lord said.

In June, PGI advertised 10 roles across its digital security teams but has only managed to fill two positions so far with the help of an in-house training academy.

Mr Lord said the slow rate in hiring was due to potential employers "invariably ending up in a bidding war", which he said was often won by richer companies "who are better able to absorb the increased overhead or more able to pass the increased cost on their client base".

"There is just no unemployment in the sector and supply is struggling to keep up," he added.

Manny Athwal, chief executive of the School of Coding in Wolverhampton, said employers have been contacting the school, which has 5,250 students, to recruit potential candidates before they even start courses.

'Perfect storm'

The findings come despite the UK's unemployment rate remaining relatively high due to the pandemic, at 4.7% in the three months to April.

Gerwyn Davies from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said there was a danger of overhyping the shortages, with a fall in the number of young people currently in employed in the UK.

In hospitality especially, Mr Davies said "a perfect storm" had occurred "where we're seeing a demand for labour occur alongside a sharp fall in the stock of EU workers".

"It's a question of employers having to work harder to recruit and train their staff rather than having no applicants," he added.

REC chief executive Neil Carberry said: "Recruiters are working flat out to fill roles across our economy. The jobs market is improving at the fastest pace we have ever seen, but it is still an unpredictable time.

"We can't yet tell how much the ending of furlough and greater candidate confidence will help to meet this rising demand for staff. In some key shortage sectors like hospitality, food, driving and IT, more support is likely to be needed to avoid slowing the recovery."

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