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UK graduate labour market update: 17 February

February 2021

Charlie Ball provides his regular update on the graduate labour market, summarising the key highlights from the week's news, data and research

Welcome to the latest instalment of our round-up of the week's developments in the UK graduate labour market, brought to you by Prospects Luminate at Jisc.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) went up by 1.2% in December:

  • December GDP is 6.3% below the levels seen in February 2020.
  • The services sector increased by 1.7% as a number of consuming facing industries reopened following the easing of restrictions in December, as well as strong growth in health (with the strongest contributions coming from the coronavirus testing and tracing schemes). The services sector is now 6.9% below the level of February 2020.
  • The production sector grew marginally by 0.2% in December 2020, and is now 3.6% below its February 2020 level. Elsewhere the construction sector acted as a drag on growth in December, falling by 2.9% following seven consecutive monthly increases. The construction sector is now 3.5% below the level of February 2020.
  • The services sector saw growth in 11 out of 14 sub-sectors between November and December 2020. The largest contributors to this increase were in industries which benefited from the period in early December where restrictions were eased in some parts for the UK.

The latest round of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) fast response experimental statistics on the impact of COVID were released on the 11th February:

  • 18% of the workforce of all UK businesses were on furlough leave.
  • 36% of working adults in Great Britain worked exclusively from home in the last seven days - the same as last week.
  • In the week ending 5 February 2021, the volume of UK online job adverts stood at 80% of the level seen in the same week last year.
  • Online job adverts increased in 19 of the 28 Adzuna categories, decreased in six and stayed the same for the remaining three.
  • The 'legal' category saw an increase of nine percentage points from the previous week to 83% of the level seen last year.
  • 'Construction and trade', saw a decrease of 14 percentage points. Despite this decrease in the latest week, the volume of online job adverts for construction and trade remains high at 108% of its level seen last year, having seen a consistent rise since July 2020.
  • Manufacturing, construction, transport/logistics and scientific/QA have more job vacancies than this time last year.
  • In the week ending 5 February 2021, eight of the 12 UK regions and countries saw an increase in the volume of online job adverts. The remaining four saw a decrease, three of which were the devolved countries, although Northern Irish vacancies still remain above last year's levels. The North East of England saw a marginal fall but stands at 90% of last year's level.

However data from Emsi and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) for the monthly Jobs Recovery Tracker tells a slightly different story (although not tremendously different):

  • 1.30 million active job adverts in the first week of February, returning to levels last seen in late June 2020.
  • 132,000 new job adverts were posted last week.
  • The drop in active postings was recorded across every English region as well as Wales and Scotland.
  • East Lothian & Midlothian saw the biggest weekly fall in job postings (-13.6%), followed by North Hampshire (-7.9%) and the Scottish Borders (-7.0%). In Scotland overall there was a drop of -3.8% in active postings, while in London the number decreased by 5.3% as the capital's jobs market continued to struggle.
  • Northern Ireland was the only nation to record an increase in job ads.
  • The occupation with the highest increase in active job adverts was dispensing opticians (+15.7%) and there was also an increase for pharmacy and other dispensing assistants (+8.8%) as the vaccine rollout continued.
  • A number of roles in the construction sector like bricklayers (+14.2%), town planning officers (+8.6%) and plasterers (+7.5%) saw a rise in adverts, while there was also increasing demand for special educational needs teachers, perhaps due to these children requiring more specialised attention with schools remaining shut.

Mothers were ten percentage points more likely than fathers to ask to be furloughed, while there was no gender gap among those without children.

Parliament's Women and Equalities Committee have published a report on the gendered impact of COVID:

  • The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimated that women were a third more likely to be employed in sectors that were 'shut down' over the first national lockdown, and thus particularly at risk of job loss. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) statistics show that in most countries and regions more women than men were furloughed at 31 July.
  • Women, particularly Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women, were disproportionately employed in less secure, low quality work arrangements.
  • Those in insecure work, including zero-hours arrangements and temporary employment, suffered greater falls in earnings and hours over the pandemic than those on more secure contracts.
  • Furloughed workers on less secure contracts were less likely to have had their wages topped up by their employer beyond the 80% subsidy provided by the government. As women are more likely to be employed on insecure contracts, this has meant that women were ten percentage points less likely than men to receive a discretionary top-up to their furloughed earnings.
  • Women increased the number of hours devoted to child care by more than men, putting an additional burden on working mothers. IFS research found that mothers found it harder to work productively from home during the pandemic.
  • Mothers were ten percentage points more likely than fathers to ask to be furloughed, while there was no gender gap among those without children.
  • Young people have been hit especially hard by the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic. The fall in employment has been greatest amongst those aged 16–24 years old, reaching a record low in August-October 2020.
  • Young workers were two and a half times as likely to work in a shut-down sector: shut-down sectors employed nearly a third (30%) of all employees under the age of 25 (25% of young men and 36% of young women).
  • The number of young people claiming unemployment related benefits increased by 122% between March and July.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) has published predictions for the UK economy in the first quarter:

  • The resurgence of COVID-19 has led to a downward revision in forecasts of UK economic growth in 2021 made by NIESR: from 5.9% to 3.4%, following a contraction of 9.9% in 2020.
  • Early indications are that the lockdown in the first quarter is having a larger impact on activity than in November, but a smaller impact than the Spring 2020 lockdown.
  • There are major risks to the downside associated with the roll-out and effectiveness of vaccines, the emergence of new COVID-19 strains and their effect on the path of the virus, which might imply the continuation of lockdown measures for a longer period, suppressing domestic demand.
  • A slower than expected global recovery due to COVID-19 is also a major downside risk for the UK economy through lower trade.
  • Successful mass vaccination of the UK population followed by a permanent easing of social distancing rules presents an upside risk to NIESR's forecast in 2021 and beyond.
  • The South East and the South West have relatively less short run effects of COVID-19 together with relatively quicker recovery. London had the strongest downturn but also the sharpest recovery. These three regions evidence strongest resilience. By contrast, Northern Ireland, West Midlands and the North West suffer long term scarring.

Engineering, and technology and digital, are among the top industries that young people believe hold the best long-term career opportunities, in light of the pandemic.

BAE Systems ran a survey of young people's career plans to coincide with National Apprenticeship Week.

  • The survey of 2,000 young people aged between 16 and 24 found that 21% were more confused about their career path than before the COVID outbreak, with 43% choosing to put career or education plans on hold while they waited for the pandemic to be over.
  • Young people identify continuous learning, a good salary and stability as key priorities.
  • Engineering, and technology and digital, are among the top industries that young people believe hold the best long-term career opportunities, in light of the pandemic.
  • Almost two thirds (63%) of young people have or would consider an apprenticeship.
  • When asked what matters most to them in a career, 31% of young people said continuous learning and the ability to develop their skill set is an important factor. While wanting to earn a good salary (41%) topped the chart, jobs that provide stability and routine (30%) and a career that is future-proofed (25%) are key areas of concern.
  • Respondents had clear views on the skills that they think will be most important to support their future long-term career plans, with 'soft' skills ranking among the highest, including communication (35%), problem solving (31%) and teamwork (30%). With the pandemic highlighting the critical role of healthcare and education professionals, these industries came out top with young people believing they hold the best long-term career opportunities.
  • 30% of respondents said the opportunity to make a difference to the world is important to them in a future career.

Also for National Apprenticeship Week, In-Comm have released their Training Barometer:

  • 51% of employers have cut their training budgets due to COVID.
  • 53% have shelved future plans to take on young workers as they adapt to the challenges presented by the virus.
  • 14% of respondents have made cuts to apprenticeships.
  • 84% retained their apprentices during the pandemic.
  • The most popular reason for investing in an apprentice is to develop future talent (63%), followed jointly by filling a skills gap and retaining existing skills in the business (both 12%).
  • The main barrier to training is releasing staff from core activities (47%), with finance and the ability to identify the right training the next big issues.
  • 79% of surveyed secondary school pupils would consider an apprenticeship.
  • 47% saw apprenticeships as being equivalent to going to university.
  • 66% of learners didn't know where to look for an apprenticeship.

Chambers of Commerce have surveyed their members on the effects of Brexit:

  • Overall, 30% of respondents reported difficulties adapting to changes to moving or trading goods in the first month of the year, while 10% said they had found adapting to the changes easy. 45% said trade in goods was not applicable to their business, and 16% said it was too early to say.
  • However, the percentage facing difficulties in adapting to changes in trading goods rose for exporters, where 49% reported issues, as well as manufacturers, where the percentage facing difficulties was 51%. 16% of exporters, and 19% of manufacturers reported ease in adapting to changes to trading goods.
  • Overall, 14% of firms said that they faced difficulties in adapting to changes in the trade of services. 10% said they had found adapting to the changes easy. The percentage facing difficulties rose for exporters, where 21% reported issues.

The CIPD have examined the experiences of LGBT+ workers in pandemic:

  • Over 40% of LGB+ workers experienced a conflict at work over a 12-month period, compared with 29% of heterosexual workers. Conflicts typically involve being undermined/ humiliated or discriminatory behaviour aimed at a protected characteristic.
  • 55% of transgender workers surveyed said they had experienced conflict over a 12-month period and at least 50% of these conflicts were unresolved. 12% of trans workers said they have experienced unwanted sexual attention at work and 2% have experienced sexual assault. 
  • Trans workers were least likely to feel psychologically safe (able to be accepted, valued, and able to voice concerns) at work. 18% said they felt psychologically unsafe at work compared with 16% of LGB+ workers and 10% of heterosexual workers. 
  • LGB+ and heterosexual workers reported similar job satisfaction levels with around 66% of both groups saying they felt somewhat to very satisfied at work. However, a slightly higher proportion of LGB+ workers felt somewhat to very dissatisfied with their job, compared with heterosexual workers (19% vs 15%). Just over 50% of trans workers reported feeling somewhat to very satisfied with their job and a third (33%) said they felt somewhat to very dissatisfied.

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