Vacancies and jobs in the UK: February 2021

Estimates of the number of vacancies and jobs for the UK.

This is the latest release. View previous releases

23 February 2021

The effect of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on our capacity means we have reviewed the existing labour market releases and will be suspending some publications.

This will protect the delivery and quality of our remaining labour market outputs as well as ensuring we can respond to new demands as a direct result of the coronavirus. More details about the impact on labour market outputs can be found in our statement.

This is an accredited National Statistic. Click for information about types of official statistics.

Contact:
Email Roger Smith

Release date:
23 February 2021

Next release:
23 March 2021

2. Main points

  • The number of job vacancies in November 2020 to January 2021 was 26% lower than a year ago; this is an improvement on the position in summer 2020 when vacancies were down by nearly 60% year-on-year, but the rate of improvement has slowed in the most recent few months; further restrictions and national lockdowns recently have affected vacancies in some industries more than others, most notably the accommodation and food services industry.

  • In November 2020 to January 2021 there were an estimated 599,000 vacancies, a growth of 64,000 from a quarter earlier; this growth compares with a quarterly increase of 93,000 in the three months to December 2020 and more than 100,000 in each of the three previous periods.

  • The rate of recovery in vacancies varies by industry; while construction now has more vacancies than it did a year ago, accommodation and food services saw a further quarterly decrease of 11,000 vacancies in the three months to January 2021 and estimated vacancies in this industry are now 75.6% lower than a year ago.

  • In comparison with other-sized business, the smallest businesses (with one to nine employees), cut their vacancies relatively little in 2020 and in November 2020 to January 2021 had only 5,000 (4%) fewer vacancies than a year ago; there are recent signs that the largest employers, particularly those with 2,500 or more employees, are starting to increase their vacancies although these remain at 78,000 (26.8%) fewer than a year ago.

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3. Vacancies for November 2020 to January 2021

The monthly Vacancy Survey asks businesses for the number of external vacancies on a specified count date (always a Friday) that falls in the first eight days of each month.

In November 2020 to January 2021, there were an estimated 599,000 vacancies. This is 211,000 (26%) fewer than the estimated 809,000 vacancies a year earlier, prior to the start of coronavirus (COVID-19) social distancing measures.

Vacancies declined sharply from April 2020, at the start of the pandemic. This was initially followed by signs of a quick recovery, but the recovery slowed in the autumn as further restrictions and national lockdowns were introduced. The increase in vacancies over the latest quarter was 64,000, which is a slowdown relative to recent periods. There had been a quarterly increase of 93,000 in the three months to December 2020 and more than 100,000 in each of the three previous periods.

The headline vacancy estimates relate to three-month averages, which naturally involve some time lag. Insight into trends in January 2021 alone is provided by two experimental sources, which both indicate that the trend in vacancies was broadly similar through each of the months of November, December and January. Single-month vacancy estimates (see Strengths and limitations), available in Dataset X06, indicate that there were 26% fewer vacancies in January 2021 than in January 2020, which is a similar annual percentage difference to those witnessed in each of the previous three months. Adzuna Online job advert estimates in our Coronavirus and the latest indicators for the UK economy release show a similar picture.

The Adzuna estimates also provide an early insight into a possible strengthening of vacancies into the first two weeks of February 2021. However, the Adzuna estimates are experimental and should be interpreted with caution, most notably because they cover vacancies advertised online only.

The pandemic has led to particularly large falls in vacancies in the following industries:

  • accommodation and food services (down 76% from a year ago)

  • arts, entertainment and recreation (down 56%)

  • wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles (down 42%)

During November 2020 to January 2021, most industries saw an increase in vacancies compared with August to October 2020, but accommodation and food services was negatively affected by the additional lockdowns and restrictions across the UK at the end of the year. This industry registered a decrease of 12.6 percentage points over the quarter when indexed to November 2019 to January 2020.

This is based on seasonally adjusted estimates and therefore represents a decline over and above any seasonal patterns in vacancies. Vacancies in this industry now run at 0.9 per 100 employee jobs, which is the lowest of any industry profiled in the Vacancy Survey; in the same period a year ago, the ratio was 3.8, the highest of any industry.

The other industry that saw a clear fall in vacancies over the quarter was transport and storage. This is likely to have been affected by stronger growth in vacancies in the previous three months to facilitate deliveries associated with more online shopping at Christmas in 2020.

Among industries that saw a growth in vacancies over the quarter, the most notable was public administration and defence; compulsory social security (up 67.3 percentage points indexed to November 2019 to January 2020). This was driven by temporary recruitment for the 2021 Census. Vacancies in wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles rose to recoup some of the losses seen earlier in the year, and more notable short increases were seen in information and communications, and professional, scientific and technical activities.

The 10.8% annual increase in vacancies within construction reflects a strong turnaround in the sector, which saw a notable downturn in vacancies during early summer. While the ratio of vacancies to employee jobs was 0.5 in construction in April to June 2020, it is now 2.0.

In 2020, vacancies fell least in the smallest companies – those employing one to nine employees. In November 2020 to January 2021, vacancies within this group were down 4% from a year ago, which is far less than companies employing more staff.

However, in recent months larger companies have started to increase their vacancies. Most notably, companies employing 2,500 or more employees increased vacancies by 48,000, to 213,000 between August to October 2020 and November 2020 to January 2021. This was a 29.3% increase, or 16.6 percentage points when indexed to November 2019 to January 2020.

Companies employing 10 to 49 employees had a further fall in vacancies, which are now down by 38.2% from a year ago.

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4. Jobs, vacancies and wider labour market measures

Vacancies represent one element of labour demand, and a more complete understanding of the health of the labour market should also consider number of jobs and number of people looking for work.

The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimate of number of (filled) workforce jobs is for September 2020, published in December 2020. This shows a fall of 935,000 jobs compared with March 2020, before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Over the same period vacancies dropped by 299,000, giving a combined fall in labour demand of a little over 1.2 million. Since then, vacancies have increased by approximately just 0.1 million.

Workforce jobs estimates for December 2020 will be published in March 2021.

Given the fall in labour demand, the number of people in work has naturally dropped, as reported in ONS employment estimates based on the Labour Force Survey, and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) estimates of number of employees from Pay As You Earn Real Time Information. The additional excess labour supply has resulted in the rate of unemployment increasing, and once that increase in unemployment is considered, the rate of recovery in vacancies at the back end of 2020 is less positive.

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5. Vacancies and jobs data

Vacancies by industry
Dataset VACS02 | Released 23 February 2021
Estimates of vacancies by industry (Standard Industrial Classification 2007).

Workforce jobs summary
Dataset JOBS01 | Released 15 December 2020
Estimates of jobs by type of job (including employee jobs, self-employment jobs, HM Forces and government-supported trainees).

Workforce jobs by industry
Dataset JOBS02 | Released 15 December 2020
Estimates of jobs by industry (Standard Industrial Classification 2007).

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6. Glossary

Vacancies

Vacancies are defined as positions for which employers are actively seeking recruits from outside their business or organisation. The estimates are based on the Vacancy Survey; this is a survey of businesses designed to provide estimates of the stock of vacancies across the economy, excluding agriculture, forestry and fishing (a small sector for which the collection of estimates would not be practical).

Jobs

A job is an activity performed for an employer or customer by a worker in exchange for payment, usually in cash, or in kind, or both. The number of jobs is not the same as the number of people in employment. This is because a person can have more than one job. The number of jobs is the sum of employee jobs from employer surveys, self-employment jobs from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), those in HM Forces and government-supported trainees. The number of people in employment is measured by the LFS; these estimates are available in our Employment in the UK release.

A more detailed glossary is available.

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7. Measuring the data

Coronavirus

For more information on how labour market data sources are affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, see the article published on 6 May 2020, which details some of the challenges that we have faced in producing estimates at this time.

An article, published on 11 December 2020, compares our labour market data sources and discusses some of themain differences.

Our latest data and analysis on the impact of the coronavirus on the UK economy and population are available on our dedicated coronavirus page. This is the hub for all special coronavirus-related publications, drawing on all available data. In response to the developing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we are working to ensure that we continue to publish economic statistics. For more information, please see COVID-19 and the production ofstatistics.

Impact on production of vacancy and workforce job estimates

Because of social distancing measures leading to the temporary closure of businesses across the UK, there have been some difficulties in collecting data using the Vacancy Survey and the Short-Term Employment Surveys.

Survey response rates were lower than is typical. To protect the quality of our output, we have used alternative sources where possible to inform data. We have used Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) section-level indications from the Business Impact of COVID-19 Survey (BICS), as well as survey contributor-level comments provided to us over the telephone or electronically, as a guide on whether businesses are operational and likely, or not, to be actively recruiting and to confirm employment figures.

End of EU Exit Transition period

As the transition period ends and the UK enters into a new Trade and Co-operation Agreement with the EU, the UK statistical system will continue to produce and publish our wide range of economic and social statistics and analysis. We are committed to continued alignment with the highest international statistical standards, enabling comparability both over time and internationally, and ensuring the general public, statistical users and decision-makers have the data they need to be informed.

As the shape of the UK's future statistical relationship with the EU becomes clearer over the coming period, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is making preparations to assume responsibilities that as part of our membership of the EU, and during the transition period, were delegated to the statistical office of the EU, Eurostat. This includes responsibilities relating to international comparability of economic statistics, deciding what international statistical guidance to apply in the UK context and to provide further scrutiny of our statistics and sector classification decisions.

In applying international statistical standards and best practice to UK economic statistics, we will draw on the technical advice of experts in the UK and internationally, and our work will be underpinned by the UK's well- established and robust framework for independent official statistics, set out in the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007. Further information on our proposals will be made available later this year.

We will continue to produce our labour market statistics in line with the UK Statistics Authority's Code of Practice for Statistics and in accordance with International Labour Organization (ILO) definitions and agreed international statistical guidance.

Sources

The data in this bulletin come from surveys of businesses. It is not feasible to survey every business in the UK, so these statistics are estimates based on samples, not precise figures.

Vacancies

Estimates of vacancies are obtained from the Vacancy Survey, a survey of employers. Adzuna Online job advert estimates are also published as part of the Coronavirus and the latest indicators for the UK economy release.

Jobs

Estimates of jobs are compiled from a number of sources, including Short-Term Employment Surveys (STES), the Quarterly Public Sector Employment Survey (QPSES) and the Labour Force Survey (LFS). STES is a group of surveys that collect employment and turnover information from private sector businesses. In December of each year, the jobs estimates are "benchmarked" to the latest estimates from the Business Register and EmploymentSurvey (BRES).

More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in the Vacancy Survey QMI and Workforce jobs QMI.

Sampling variability

Sampling variability information for jobs is available in Table 1 in this bulletin and in Dataset JOBS07: Workforcejobs sampling variability.

The sampling variability of the three-month average vacancies level is around plus or minus 1.5% of that level expressed as a coefficient of variation, giving a 95% confidence interval for estimates of approximately plus or minus 20,000.

The sampling variability of the three-month average vacancies level, for a typical industrial sector is around plus or minus 6% of that level.

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8. Strengths and limitations

Accuracy of the statistics: estimating and reporting uncertainty

The figures in this bulletin mainly come from surveys of businesses, which gather information from a sample rather than from the whole population. The samples are designed to be as accurate as possible given practical limitations such as time and cost constraints. Results from sample surveys are always estimates, not precise figures. This can have an impact on how changes in the estimates should be interpreted, especially for short-term comparisons.

As the number of people available in the sample gets smaller, the variability of the estimates that we can make from that sample size gets larger. Estimates for small groups (for example, vacancies in the construction industry), which are based on small subsets of the Vacancy Survey sample, are less reliable and tend to be more volatile than for larger aggregated groups (for example, total vacancies in the UK).

In general, short-term changes in the growth rates reported in this bulletin are not usually greater than the level that can be explained by sampling variability. Short-term movements in reported rates should be considered alongside longer-term patterns in the series and corresponding movements in other sources to give a fuller picture.

Vacancies

The vacancy headline estimate is based on a seasonally adjusted, three-month moving average and has NationalStatistics status. Further information about how single estimates have impacted the three-month estimates is available in the X06 dataset. These experimental estimates are non-seasonally adjusted and should not be considered accurate estimates of vacancies in the reported months because of the high volatility caused by the survey sample design. They can be used to indicate an approximate change in the level of total vacancies.

Approximately 80% of the rotational survey overlaps every three months, therefore a comparison of vacancy estimates for a given month to three months prior can provide a reasonable indication of the change in monthly vacancies.

Jobs

An annual reconciliation report of job estimates is published every March comparing the latest workforce jobs (WFJ) estimates with the equivalent estimates of jobs from the Labour Force Survey (LFS).

The concept of employment (measured by the LFS as the number of people in work) differs from the concept of jobs, since a person can have more than one job and some jobs may be shared by more than one person. The LFS, which collects information mainly from residents of private households, is the preferred source of statistics on employment. The WFJ series, which is compiled mainly from surveys of businesses, is the preferred source of statistics on jobs by industry, since it provides a more reliable industry breakdown than the LFS.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the LFS and WFJ series may have additional difference because a person's perception of their attachment to a job may differ from the business's perception of that job. It is also important to note that LFS is based on interviews throughout the coverage period, whereas WFJ series to relate to a specific date. This difference can be significant in a labour market that is experiencing rapid changes.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Roger Smith
labour.market@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455277