Vacancies and jobs in the UK: May 2020

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

This is the latest release. View previous releases

19 May 2020

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 COVID-19. More details about the impact on labour market outputs can be found in our statement.

This is an accredited national statistic.

Contact:
Email Laura Caldwell

Release date:
19 May 2020

Next release:
16 June 2020

1. Other pages in this release

Other commentary from the latest labour market data can be found on the following pages:

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2. Main points

  • Vacancy estimates presented in this bulletin are based on specific count dates each month; in April 2020, this was the 3rd, after the implementation of the coronavirus (COVID-19) social distancing measures.

  • There were an estimated 637,000 vacancies in the UK in February to April 2020; this is 170,000 fewer than the previous quarter and 210,000 fewer than a year earlier.

  • The quarterly fall of 170,000 vacancies is the largest quarterly change since the current time series started in 2001, eclipsing the decrease of 106,000 vacancies in the three months to January 2009.

  • The fall of 210,000 is the largest annual decrease since the year to April to June 2009.

  • For December 2019, there were an estimated 35.83 million jobs in the UK; this is an increase of 67,000 jobs compared with September 2019 and an increase of 541,000 jobs when compared with the same period the previous year.

  • The increase of 67,000 jobs was caused by self-employed jobs, which increased by 74,000 when compared with September 2019; employee jobs fell by 13,000 over the same period.

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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.

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3. Vacancies for February to April 2020

The monthly Vacancy Survey asks businesses for the number of external vacancies on a specified count date. The headline series is based on three-month rolling averages. The latest data are for the period February to April 2020, and the latest count date was 3 April 2020. The responses sought from businesses for April 2020 are therefore following the commencement of UK social distancing measures. Due to 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 in April 2020, more information can be found in Section 7: Measuring the data.

For the three-month rolling average of vacancies, the standard errors are around 10,000 (1.5% expressed as a coefficient of variation), giving a 95% confidence interval of plus or minus 20,000.

The estimated number of vacancies in the UK fell sharply during the recession of 2008 to 2009. Since 2012, it has generally increased, reaching a record high of 855,000 in November 2018 to January 2019. For February to April 2020, there were an estimated 637,000 vacancies in the UK; this is 170,000 fewer than in the previous quarter (November 2019 to January 2020) and 210,000 fewer than a year earlier, both of which are statistically significant changes. This is the lowest total vacancies figure since there were an estimated 617,000 in January to March 2014.

The vacancy headline estimate is based on a seasonally adjusted, three-month moving average and has National Statistic status. Single month vacancy estimates are available in dataset X06. They should be used with caution as they are experimental, non-seasonally adjusted statistics and should not be considered accurate estimates of vacancies in the reported months, due to the high volatility caused by the survey sample design (see Strengths and limitations section).

The three-month average non-seasonally adjusted series, in Figure 2, is more volatile than the seasonally adjusted series shown in Figure 1. Therefore, Figure 2 does not exhibit all monthly series volatility compared with the headline National Statistic.

Whilst the experimental single-month estimates should not be considered accurate estimates of vacancies in the reported months, it does indicate a decrease of approximately 50% of vacancies compared with the estimate in March 2020.

For February to April 2020, it is estimated that:

  • the sector showing the largest quarterly fall was “accommodation and food service activities”, with a record quarterly decrease of 32,000; recruitment in this sector was heavily impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19) social distancing measures leading to the closure of restaurants, hotels and pubs

  • there was a record quarterly level decrease for the sector of “wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles”, which fell by 31,000; despite UK supermarkets recruiting for temporary workers, evidence suggests the vast majority of this had taken place before the survey count date of 3 April

  • the sector with the second largest quarterly fall in vacancies, in terms of percentage change (after only “accommodation and food service activities” down negative 36.4%), was “arts, entertainment and recreation” which saw a decrease of 29.3% following the postponement of sporting events, as well as the closure of amusement parks and fitness facilities

  • there were 126,000 vacancies in the “human health and social work activities” sector (making it the largest sector for the twelfth consecutive period), however there was an estimated decrease of 11,000 on a quarter earlier; despite vacancy level increases in some areas of this sector, there were significant decreases in others, such as childcare businesses and dental practices

  • the sectors showing the largest annual decreases were “accommodation and food service activities” and “wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles”, both decreasing by 39,000 compared with the previous year

  • there were 2.1 job vacancies per 100 employee jobs across the economy, down 0.6 from the previous quarter and 0.7 from the previous year

  • the sector showing the highest vacancy rate was “human health and social work activities”, with 3.1 vacancies per 100 employee jobs, making this sector the largest in terms of both vacancy level and rate

  • there was a significant decrease in the vacancy rate of “accommodation and food service activities”, down 1.4 to a total of 2.4 vacancies per 100 employee jobs; the sector previously had the largest vacancy rate since August to October 2018

  • the sector showing the lowest vacancy rate was “construction” at 1.4 job vacancies per 100 employee jobs

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4. Jobs for December 2019 (first published on 17 March 2020)

The jobs data and accompanying datasets relate to the December 2019 period before reported cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK.

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. Estimates for the number of people in employment are available in Employment in the UK.

It is estimated that:

  • the number of jobs has been generally increasing since 2013

  • there were a record high 35.83 million jobs in the UK in December 2019; this is 67,000 more than in September 2019 and 541,000 higher than in December 2018

  • the largest sector, with an estimated 4.97 million jobs, was the “wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles” sector in December 2019; this represents 13.9% of total jobs in December 2019

  • the next largest sector was “human health and social work”, with 4.48 million jobs in December 2019

  • several sectors were at a record high in December 2019, including “education” (2.98 million jobs), “accommodation and food service activities” (2.51 million jobs), “information and communication” (1.54 million jobs) and “other service activities” (1.01 million jobs)

The sectors showing the largest estimated annual increase in jobs were “human health and social work” (up 117,000 on the year) and “professional, scientific and technical” (up 83,000 on the year).

There were two sectors showing annual decreases in jobs; these were “construction” (down 34,000 on the year) and “wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles” (down 33,000 on the year).

The sector showing the largest estimated quarterly increase in jobs was “construction”. Total construction jobs increased by 44,000. Of this, self-employed jobs increased by 31,000 and employee jobs increased by 14,000.

There were several sectors showing estimated quarterly decreases in jobs. The largest sectors were “professional, scientific and technical activities” (down by 22,000 on the quarter) and “administrative and support service activities” (down by 19,000 on the quarter).

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5. Vacancies and jobs data

Vacancies by industry
Dataset VACS02 | Released 19 May 2020
Estimates of vacancies by industry (Standard Industrial Classification 2007).

Workforce jobs summary
Dataset JOBS01 | Released 17 March 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 17 March 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

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presents challenges to accurate measurement of the labour market, as outlined in this article. Data in this statistical bulletin and accompanying datasets relate to specific survey count dates, for vacancies in April 2020 this was 3 April. The April 2020 period of the vacancy estimates for February to April 2020 are, therefore, impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19) social distancing measures.

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 in April 2020. Survey response rates for the period of April 2020 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.

In response to the developing situation, we are working to ensure that we continue to publish economic statistics. For more information, please see COVID-19 and the production of statistics.

We have reviewed all publications and data published as part of the labour market release in response to the coronavirus pandemic. This has led to the postponement of some publications and datasets to ensure that we can continue to publish our main labour market data. This will protect the delivery and quality of our remaining outputs as well as ensuring we can respond to new demands as a direct result of COVID-19.

David Freeman, head of labour market statistics at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), has looked at how the ONS is responding to the pressing need for new information in his blog, Measuring the labour market during coronavirus.

For more information on how labour market data sources, among others, will be affected by the coronavirus pandemic, see the statement published on 27 March 2020.

Workforce jobs estimates for December 2019 are largely unaffected by recent developments.

Our latest data and analysis on the impact of the coronavirus on the UK economy and population is now available on our dedicated COVID-19 webpage. This will be the hub for all special coronavirus-related publications, drawing on all available data.

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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.

The vacancy headline estimate is based on a seasonally adjusted, three-month moving average and has national statistic 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 due to the high volatility caused by the survey sample design. They can be used to indicate that the quarterly decrease of vacancies for February to April 2020 is driven by a decrease in vacancies in April.

Further information is available in A guide to labour market statistics .

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

The sampling variability of the three-month average vacancies level is around plus or minus 1.5% of that level.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Laura Caldwell
labour.market@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455955