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UK graduate labour market update: 12 April

April 2021

In a bumper post-Easter update, Charlie Ball reviews the latest data and reports on the labour market, including studies on post-16 education choices, the gender pay gap, and the impact of homeworking on productivity

The latest round of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) fast response experimental statistics on the impact of COVID were released on 8 April:

  • 75% of UK businesses were trading last week.
  • Total online job adverts on 1 April 2021 were at 97% of their average level in February 2020.
  • In the week to 3 April, UK retail footfall increased by 9% compared with the previous week to 51% of its level in the equivalent week of 2019.

The ONS have also published their fortnightly review of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and other events on UK businesses and the economy.

  • The percentage of currently trading businesses experiencing a decrease in turnover, compared with normal expectations for this time of year, has fallen from 46% in January to 40% in mid-March.
  • 19% of the workforce - around 6.1 million workers - remain furloughed.
  • The arts, entertainment and recreation industry, and the accommodation and food service activities industry, had the highest proportions of their workforces on furlough leave, at 58% and 51% respectively.
  • 32% of the UK workforce worked solely remotely last week.
  • 81% of workers in IT and 71% of workers in professional services worked remotely last week, while 51% of workers in non-school education also worked solely remotely.

Two other interesting pieces of analysis came out from the ONS this week. The first is about the effects of the pandemic on people with disabilities. There is not a lot directly about the labour market in this report, but people with disabilities have experienced particular disadvantage in work since the start of the pandemic so this report is timely.

  • A larger proportion of disabled people (78%) than non-disabled people (69%), said they were worried (very or somewhat) about the effect that the coronavirus (COVID-19) was having on their life. For disabled people this proportion was lower than in September 2020 (83%).
  • Disabled people more often indicated coronavirus had affected their life than non-disabled people in ways such as their health (35% for disabled people, compared with 12% for non-disabled people), access to healthcare for non-coronavirus related issues (40% compared with 19%), wellbeing (65% compared with 50%) and access to groceries, medication and essentials (27% compared with 12%).
  • Feeling stressed or anxious, feeling bored and feeling worried about the future were the wellbeing concerns most frequently cited by both disabled (67%, 62% and 57% respectively) and non-disabled people (54%, 63% and 52% respectively) in February 2021. Feeling bored has increasingly been reported by both disabled (43% to 62%) and non-disabled (42% to 63%) people with wellbeing concern since September 2020.
  • Among people who indicated coronavirus affected their wellbeing, disabled people more frequently than non-disabled people specified that the coronavirus was making their mental health worse (46% for disabled people and 29% for non-disabled people), they are feeling like a burden on others (25% and 10%), they are feeling stressed and anxious (67% and 54%) or they are feeling lonely (49% and 37%).

The proportion of students reporting feeling lonely often or always (29%) is far greater than the 7% of the adult population in Great Britain reporting the same.

The second is the now-regular examination of the effects of the pandemic on higher education (HE) students.

  • Average life satisfaction scores among students improved, returning to the same levels seen in November 2020 (5.2 out of 10), having been significantly lower in both January (4.6) and February (4.9) 2021.
  • The improvement in average life satisfaction scores mirrors the trend seen for the adult population in Great Britain. However, students' average ratings of life satisfaction (5.2) still remain significantly lower than the average ratings of the adult population in Great Britain (6.8) over a similar period.
  • The proportion of students reporting a worsening in their mental health and wellbeing, since the start of the autumn term 2020, fell between February (67%) and March (63%), consistent with the other wellbeing findings.
  • The proportion of students reporting feeling lonely often or always (29%) remained at a similar level to February - this is far greater than the 7% of the adult population in Great Britain reporting the same over a similar period.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has published an analysis of the determinants and consequences of post-16 education choices using Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) data linked to National Pupil Database, Individual Learner Record and HMRC data for individuals who completed their GCSEs in England between 2001/02 and 2004/05.

This work has been undertaken for the Social Mobility Commission. As you'd expect from the IFS, it's a very interesting piece of analysis with many noteworthy findings:

  • The highest earning routes are A-levels or a combination of A-levels and technical courses
  • Academic courses are associated with the highest earnings. 80% of A-level courses are ranked in the top 25% of earnings. This partly reflects the fact that academic courses often facilitate access to higher education.
  • Courses combining academic and technical qualifications are relatively high-earning too, with 70% of students ending up in jobs ranked in the top 50% of earnings.
  • Technical qualifications are mostly associated with low earnings. 62% of classroom-based technical qualifications and 40% of apprenticeships are in the bottom 25% of earnings.
  • The technical qualifications with highest earnings potential are Level 3, particularly Level 3 apprenticeships. Men are more likely to take courses in higher-earning subject areas.
  • Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to choose low-earning courses (particularly women).
  • About 50% of disadvantaged women take low-earning courses ranked in the bottom 25% of earnings, which compares with about 31% of disadvantaged men.
  • Women are ten percentage points more likely than men to choose the courses in technical education that pay the least well.
  • Prior attainment mostly explains why young people choose the highest-earning courses. However some groups are more likely to choose the lowest paying routes, regardless of their achievements.
  • High achieving disadvantaged students are less likely to choose the higher-earning academic routes than students from privileged backgrounds.
  • Disadvantage has persistent effects on early-career earnings, even after controlling for prior attainment. Men's choice of subject or course does not make this any worse. However, there is a further 'earnings penalty' for disadvantaged women of around four to five percentage points linked to their subject and course choices. Those choosing low-earning courses including disadvantaged Black Caribbean students and disadvantaged White British women.
  • Only 27% of women and 22% of men from disadvantaged Black Caribbean backgrounds took courses in the top 50% of earnings.
  • Only 24% women and 33% men from disadvantaged White British backgrounds took courses in the top 50% of earnings.
  • Only three in five young people report receiving any career guidance before the age of 16. Learners and providers also feel that much less information is provided about technical routes than academic routes.
  • Young people taking higher-level courses are usually better informed about education pathways and other opportunities open to them.
  • Disadvantaged young people are more likely to be disappointed by their choices.
  • Higher-achieving learners are typically more able to pick a course they enjoy. Low-achieving learners frequently find some choice replaced by mandatory, corrective content so they enjoy less freedom. Aspirations are generally high. However, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to experience disappointment because of low attainment at the end of their course. As a result, they are more likely to find themselves on low-earning routes that they hadn't intended to take.
  • Disadvantaged students are more likely to take higher level courses (e.g. Level 3 courses) in areas such as London where there is a wide availability of school sixth forms. They are much less likely to take these higher-earning courses in places such as the North West and North East of England, where there is the lowest availability of school sixth forms.

This has a lot of implication for guidance, support and policy and is well worth a read. There is also a very good literature review.

Stronger demand for staff led to improved pay trends in March. Moreover, starting salaries rose for the first time in 2021 to date and at a sharp rate.

REC, the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, have released their monthly Jobs Outlook:

  • Employer confidence in hiring rose to a net level of +13 in December to February 2021, six percentage points higher than in the three months to January.
  • Hiring intentions for temporary agency workers rose by eight points to net: +14, indicating that many firms will be looking to temporary staff to support them while the economic outlook is still uncertain. Meanwhile, employers' intentions to hire permanent staff in the short term fell by five points, but remained high at net: +19.
  • Employers' intentions to hire staff in the medium term (over the coming 4-12 months) increased in December to February 2021, rising to net: +30 for permanent staff and net: +15 for agency workers.
  • There was heightened concern about shortages of construction workers this quarter, from both employers of permanent staff and agency workers, while demand remained high in the sector.
  • Two in five (40%) employers reported having reduced workers’ hours in the year to December-February 2021, up from just 12% in the previous 12 months.
  • Half (50%) of employers have never discussed how they could improve the diversity of candidates they consider hiring with a recruitment expert in the past two years.

    And last week REC also released their monthly Report on Jobs with KPMG. Data collection for this report took place between 12 and 25 March:

  • March survey data pointed to a substantial increase in hiring activity across the UK. Permanent placement growth hit a near six-year high, while temp billings expanded at the quickest rate since November 2017.
  • After rising only slightly in February, demand for workers grew rapidly at the end of the first quarter. Notably, the rate of expansion was the steepest seen for just over two-and-a-half years, driven by marked increases in both permanent and temporary vacancies.
  • Stronger demand for staff led to improved pay trends in March. Moreover, starting salaries rose for the first time in 2021 to date and at a sharp rate. Temp wages also increased for the first time in three months, with the rate of inflation the quickest seen since December 2019.
  • The overall availability of candidates was broadly unchanged for the second month in a row in March. While there were still a number of reports that redundancies stemming from the pandemic had driven up labour supply, this impact was largely offset by people who were reluctant to pursue new roles amid fears over job security.
  • The Midlands recorded by far the sharpest increase in temp billings of all four monitored English regions, while the softest was seen in London.
  • In the private sector, permanent vacancies increased at the sharpest rate for 32 months, while growth of short-term positions hit the highest since September 2018. Public sector vacancy growth was subdued in comparison, despite both permanent and temporary roles rising solidly overall.
  • Nine of the ten monitored job categories recorded an increase in permanent staff vacancies in March. The steepest rates of expansion were seen in Nursing/Medical/Care and IT & Computing. Retail was the only sector to register a decline.
  • Blue Collar led the upturn in demand for short-term staff during March. Nonetheless, marked rates of growth were also seen across the majority of the remaining job categories. The only sector to note lower demand was Retail.

There are two new reports from the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD). The first examines the gender pay gap according to employers' own figures.

  • The median gender pay gap was 12.8% or, alternatively, for every £1 the median male worker earned the median female worker earned 87 pence. 
  • By contrast, in 2019 women received 86 pence while in 2018 they got 87 pence for every £1 a man earned.
  • The number of employers reporting their pay data has varied: 10,833 organisations published their numbers for 2018, but just 6,150 did so for 2019 and 2,440 for 2020.The decline for 2019 and 2020 is probably attributable to enforcement action being suspended and delayed respectively. 

The CIPD have also surveyed employers on the effects of homeworking on productivity:

  • Employers are now more likely to say that the shift to homeworking has boosted productivity (33%) than they were in June 2020 (28%).
  • Employers are also less likely to say that increased homeworking has decreased productivity (23%) compared to last summer (28%), suggesting employers have had a significant net productivity benefit over the period.
  • 38% of employers say productivity has stayed the same (unchanged from June 2020). Overall, more than two thirds (71%) of employers say that the increase in homeworking has either boosted or has made no difference to productivity. 
  • Perceptions of productivity differed between organisations that had offered line manager training in managing remote workers and those that hadn't. Of those employers who offered such training, 43% said productivity had increased during homeworking, compared to only 29% that hadn't offered training. 
  • 48% of employers say they plan to expand the use of flexi-time - altering workday start and finish times - to some degree. Fairness was cited as a key reason for this, according to 45% of employers, who said employees who can't work from home should still be able to benefit from flexible working arrangements. 

Legal firm Fox and Partners have analysed Financial Conduct Authority data from September 2020 to examine equality in the financial service boardroom:

  • Women make up 15% of senior management positions at financial services firms with 7,552 of a total 50,639 senior management jobs held by women.
  • Gender diversity is lowest at the CEO level of financial services businesses. Women hold 7.8% of CEO positions (449 of a total of 5,742). 8.3% of chair roles are held by women (174 out of 2,090).
  • Average pay for female directors at FTSE-350 financial services firms stands at £247,100 compared to £722,300 for their male counterparts.

People aged under 25 are most likely to want to make changes to their work plans in the next 12 months as a result of the pandemic.

Aviva have released a new report, How We Live, looking at the long-term effects of the coronavirus outbreak and considering its impact on our future behaviours. It's based on interviews with 4,000 people and covers a range of topics but we'll look at those affecting the labour market:

  • 60% of UK workers intended to make changes to their careers, in response to the COVID situation.
  • 9% of workers intend to follow a completely different career path.
  • People aged under 25 are most likely to want to make changes to their work plans in the next 12 months as a result of the pandemic, with 87% re-evaluating their careers. Under-25s are more likely than any other age group to want a role where they can work from home (13%). They are also the age group most likely to be seeking a job which helps others (13%) and to hope to gain more academic qualifications (17%).
  • Those in the 25 to 34 age group are most likely to want to retrain (14% compared to 10% across all age groups) or follow a completely different career path (14% vs 9% all ages).
  • One in seven (14%) workers aged 55 and above say the pandemic has escalated their retirement plans to within the next 12 months, compared to 11% in July 2020.

In similar vein, the Nevin Economic Research Institute have issued two papers looking at the gender pay gaps in Northern Ireland (NI) and the Republic of Ireland (RoI):

  • Median hourly female full-time pay was 0.5% less than the male equivalent in NI and 2% less in the RoI.
  • Mean hourly female pay was 2.1% less than the male equivalent in NI and 5.1% less in the RoI.
  • For those in part-time employment the gap actually works the other way around whereby females earn more per hour on average than males. This is often referred to as a 'reverse gender pay gap'. Specifically, there is a reverse median hourly gender pay gap of 17.7%, and a reverse gap of 24.4% in mean hourly pay in NI and a reverse median hourly gender pay gap of 14.3%, and a reverse gap of 10% in mean hourly pay in RoI. Despite part-time male hourly earnings being lower than part-time female hourly earnings it remains that overall female hourly earnings are lower than average male hourly earnings because not only is the hourly pay rate for part-time employment much lower than the pay rate for full-time employment, but also because females are much more likely to work part-time than males.
  • For graduate-level roles, the following was found for mean hourly pay rates: at managerial level, the pay gap was 2.8% in NI and 7% in RoI; at professional level there was actually a substantial negative gender gap in NI, with women earning 18.9% more than men. However, in RoI the pay gap was in men's favour, of 6.6%. At associate professional level the pay gap was 3.4% in NI and 7.83 in RoI.

EMSI have written a piece for FE News looking at changing occupational demand during each lockdown:

  • High-skilled occupations dominate in those areas where demand has been maintained throughout, especially health, social care and protective services.
  • Trade skills were more likely to slump during the first lockdown but recover subsequently.
  • Retail and hospitality sectors jobs, such as leisure, travel and related personal service; sales; and customer Service have remained weak throughout.

 More from Indeed on vacancies in the UK – this time to 26 March:

  • Job postings were 25.3% below the February 1 2020 pre-pandemic baseline, seasonally adjusted, as of March 26, 2021, up four percentage points from the previous week.
  • The largest improvement has been for sports (+45.8ppts), a category that includes coaches, fitness instructors and referees. The reopening of outdoor sports was in the first stage of the government's roadmap out of lockdown, on 29 March.
  • The second-biggest improvement has been for beauty and wellness (+37.6ppts), a category which includes massage therapists, hair stylists, barbers and beauticians. Personal care businesses can reopen in the second stage of the roadmap on 12 April.
  • Non-essential retail can also reopen on this date. The retail category has seen an improvement of +20.2ppts since the announcement, while the loading and stocking, and driving, categories have likely seen some uplift from the sector's imminent reopening. 
  • Outdoor dining and drinking will also be permitted from 12 April, though indoor service is not set to resume until 17 May. Ahead of these dates, food preparation and service has seen an uplift of +24.6ppts since the roadmap was unveiled. This category includes chefs, restaurant managers, hosts/hostesses, servers, bar staff and sandwich makers.
  • There are now seven categories where job postings have surpassed pre-pandemic levels. These are construction, medical technician, loading and stocking, production and manufacturing, community and social service, logistic support and social science.

There is also data for Ireland:

  • Job postings were 16.2% below the February 1 2020, pre-pandemic baseline, seasonally adjusted, as of March 26, 2021. That was unchanged from a week earlier.
  • The Irish government has announced some modest easing of lockdown rules from mid-April, but hardest-hit sectors like personal services, hospitality and sports will have to wait a while longer and remain very depressed.
  • Health - particularly medical information, dental and nursing - remain the strongest performers.

And finally Optometry Today reports that demand for optometry services is on the up and issues a teaser for an upcoming piece on the optical labour market that features, well, me!

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