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UK graduate labour market update: 20 July

July 2021

Charlie Ball's regular summary of data and reports from the labour market, brought to you by Prospects Luminate and Jisc Data Analytics

The Institute of Employment Research have published more findings from their pioneering Futuretrack survey of graduate careers - this time on the effects of COVID on the careers of their cohort, now largely in their 30s.

  • The immediate impacts of COVID-related restrictions on the situation of these graduates, most of them in their early 30s, have been charted in detail.
  • 60% said that they had started to work from home some or all the time during the pandemic. 64% of full-time employees, 47% of part time employees and 50% of self-employed participants said they had been working from home some or all the time since the start of the pandemic, and this was a change compared to their previous routine. There was a substantial difference by gender, with 65% of men and 56% of women participants reporting that they worked at home some or all the time during the pandemic. There were only small differences among participants according to their socio-economic background.
  • Many graduates worked longer hours as they adjusted to new work routines and home working. Although many were familiar with tech and so adjusted relatively rapidly, issues of shared space and especially of school closures - many of the cohort are now parents - made this experience often stressful.
  • Those who could not work from home were mainly front-line workers providing essential goods and services. Often in client-facing roles, these graduates were always in danger of contracting COVID. Availability of PPE provided some protection but not in all cases, and many workers found working under these conditions to be a real strain. Teachers were especially affected.
  • The earnings of most graduates were not greatly affected by the pandemic, with well over a third reporting increased earnings between March and December 2020, but the 16% who reported that they had seen their personal incomes decline tended to be among the lower paid graduates, those with gross annual incomes less than £21,000, the self-employed, and those holding jobs in the hardest hit sectors, transport and tourism, hotels and catering and construction.
  • Graduates who had studied creative arts and design were disproportionately likely to report a decline in their personal incomes. Those who had first degrees in maths and computing were much less likely to have experienced any decline in their incomes.
  • Those who had been self-employed for less than three years and were consequently ineligible for government support in the face of COVID were vulnerable to income reduction and insecurity. Only a third of self-employed respondents had been able to rely on government compensation for lost income. Many of those who were self-employed reflected that they felt increasingly vulnerable, while others who had considered or had the option of self-employment reported feeling less inclined to make this move than in the past.
  • For some, the move to working from home and reduction in commuting and workplace stresses had led to improved mental health, better sleep patterns and healthier lifestyles; for others, it reportedly caused extreme stress, anxiety, loneliness, isolation and depression.
  • Periods of sick leave and even suicide attempts were reported as responses to changes in work arrangements and patterns, both due to the pressures and worries of front-line working and to the difficulties caused by having to learn new skills in inadequate circumstances with restricted workspace and resources.
  • For those who had been furloughed or were anxious about the sustainability of their jobs, careers and earning potential, isolation and anxiety sometimes led to depression.
  • Many reported that the impact on their mental health was causing them to re-evaluate their career aspirations and future plans: to move out of jobs that, they realised, had caused them undue stress prior to the pandemic and they now recognised had had a detrimental effect on their well-being.
  • Others were experiencing pressures to move from insecure jobs that they loved where their insecurity had been exacerbated by the restrictions and they saw no way out of continued mental-health threatening crises, to more sustainable work.

This is an important piece of research and it is all relevant to the topic of this newsletter. If you read one report this week, read this one.

HESA have released the first data from the 2018/19 Graduate Outcomes survey. Much of the fieldwork took place during the pandemic, but it must be noted that this cohort did not graduate during the COVID pandemic but rather the previous year. Next year's data will examine those who graduated in the pandemic.

  • There were 380,970 graduates who responded to the 2018/19 Graduate Outcomes survey from the target population of 793,445, a rate of 48% complete responses. When including graduates who partially completed the survey, this response rate rises to 52%, increasing the number of usable responses to 409,380.
  • Response rates across all domiciles were higher for the 2018/19 survey in comparison to the 2017/18 survey. This was despite most 2018/19 graduates being surveyed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 80% of respondents were in employment or unpaid work, including 11% who were engaged in both employment and further study.
  • There was a 3 percentage point decrease in the proportion of 2018/19 graduates in full-time employment compared with 2017/18 graduates. This drop coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic during which most 2018/19 graduates were surveyed.
  • The percentage of unemployed graduates (including those due to start work or study) was up two percentage points in the survey of 2018/19 graduates at 7% compared with 5% in the 2017/18 survey. Most 2018/19 graduates were surveyed during the COVID-19 pandemic. During a similar time period, an increase in unemployment within the general UK population was also reported within labour market overview statistics published by the ONS. An overall unemployment rate of 4.8% was reported for the third quarter of 2020, up 0.9 percentage points on the same quarter of the previous year.
  • The percentage of undergraduates who were unemployed (including those due to start work or study) increased more between the two years than it did for postgraduates. Correspondingly, there was a greater drop in the percentage of undergraduates in full time employment over the two year period than for postgraduates.
  • The proportion of graduates doing an other activity such as travelling, caring for someone, or, retired dropped from 6% among the 2017/18 graduate cohort to 5% in the 2018/19 cohort. Much of this drop was due to a decrease in graduates reporting to be taking time out to travel in a year when opportunities to travel were severely restricted by the pandemic.
  • A higher percentage of graduates aged between 25 and 29 were in full time employment compared to other age groups.
  • Between the 2017/18 and 2018/19 cohorts there was a greater drop in the proportion of graduates aged under 25 in full time employment at the point of the survey, than among graduates aged 25 and above. There was also a greater increase in the proportion of graduates aged under 25 who reported to be unemployed compared with the proportion of unemployment among those aged 25 and over. This is in line with other data sources showing that COVID had a more significant effect on the careers and employment of the under 25s than on any other age group.
  • Of those running their own business at the time of the 2018/19 survey, 33% were non-UK domiciled graduates. When restricting the work population to those who stated a most important activity of running their own business, this figure increases further to 38%.
  • Graduates who had studied creative arts & design saw both the largest decrease in the proportion in full-time employment and the largest increase in the proportion unemployed in the survey of 2018/19 graduates compared with 2017/18. The arts sector has been the most affected by COVID of any employment sector in the UK.
  • 2018/19 graduates who were in UK work at the time of the survey were most likely to be working in the same region as that which they were domiciled from.
  • The East of England had the lowest percentage of graduates who worked in the same region as that which they were domiciled from, at 54% among 2018/19 graduates. Conversely, Scotland was the region with the highest percentage of graduates working in the region from which they were domiciled, at 89%.
  • 84% of undergraduates and 89% of postgraduates agreed that their current activity was meaningful.

The Scottish Fiscal Commission forecast the Scottish economy could recover to pre-pandemic levels of economic output by the beginning of 2024.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have released their labour market review for July:

  • The number of payroll employees showed another monthly increase, up 356,000 in June 2021 to 28.9 million. However, it remains 206,000 below pre-pandemic levels. For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, some regions are now above pre-pandemic (February 2020) levels. These include North East, North West, East Midlands and Northern Ireland.
  • In March to May 2021, there was an increase in the employment rate of 0.1 percentage points, to 74.8%, and a decrease in the unemployment rate of 0.2 percentage points, to 4.8%. The economic inactivity rate is up 0.1 percentage points on the previous quarter, to 21.3%.
  • Young people (those aged 16 to 24 years) have been particularly affected by the pandemic, with the employment rate decreasing and the unemployment and economic inactivity rates increasing by more than seen for those aged 25 years and over. Over the last quarter, however, there was a stronger increase in the employment rate and a decrease in the unemployment rate for young people.
  • With the relaxation of many coronavirus restrictions, total hours worked increased on the quarter, however it is still below pre-pandemic levels. The redundancy rate decreased on the quarter and has returned to pre-pandemic levels.
  • The number of job vacancies in April to June 2021 was 77,500 above its pre-pandemic level in January to March 2020 - the first time since the start of the pandemic we have exceeded those figures. There were an estimated 862,000 job vacancies, with growth of 241,200 compared with last quarter; all sectors but public administration saw increases in their number of vacancies over last quarter.
  • Accommodation and food service activities increased the most - by 73,400 - on the last quarter to 102,000. In this sector there is evidence of a shortage of skilled staff and of employees finding alternative areas of employment prior to the sector reopening.
  • The rate of recovery has varied across industries since the pandemic began with the majority of industries displaying higher vacancy numbers than in January to March 2020, with human health and social work increasing the most by 18,400.
  • Only three industries show vacancies below their pre-pandemic level, these are: mining and quarrying, transport and storage, and retail, but all three have improved since last quarter.
  • Since lockdown restrictions eased, all company size bands have displayed improved vacancy numbers on the quarter.

The data for Northern Ireland is here:

  • The number of payrolled employees in NI in June 2021 was 757,200, an increase of 1.4% over the month and 2.6% over the year. Employee numbers are now above the total recorded in March 2020.
  • The NI unemployment rate was unchanged over the quarter and increased over the year (1.1percentage points) to 3.6% in March-May 2021. The NI unemployment rate was below the UK rate (4.8%). During June 2021, 490 redundancies were proposed and 850 were proposed in July to date. Over the year from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021, 7,180 redundancies were proposed, similar to the previous 12 months (6,940). The department was notified of 300 confirmed redundancies in June, taking the annual total to 6,180, the highest since 2001.
  • The proportion of people aged 16 to 64 in work increased over the quarter (0.4 percentage points) and decreased over the year (0.7 percentage points) to 70.3%. The latest employment rate recorded for the whole of the UK was 74.8%.
  • The total number of weekly hours worked (26.6 million) increased by 5% over the quarter and 13% over the year, but remains 7% below the pre-pandemic value (December to February 2020).

Here is the data for Scotland:

  • The estimated unemployment rate in Scotland was 4.4%, up 0.6 percentage points since December 2019 to February 2020 (pre-pandemic) but down 0.2 percentage points over the quarter. Scotland's unemployment rate was below the UK rate of 4.8%.
  • The estimated employment rate in Scotland was 74.0%, down 1.4 percentage points since December 2019 to February 2020 (pre-pandemic) and down 0.4 percentage points over the quarter. Scotland's employment rate was below the UK rate of 74.8%.
  • Early estimates for June 2021 from HMRC indicate that there were 2.4 million payrolled employees in Scotland, a decrease of 24,000 compared with February 2020.

Skills Developent Scotland have also issued a briefing about the effects of COVID on the Scottish labour market:

  • The Scottish economy contracted by an estimated 9.6% in 2020.
  • The Scottish Fiscal Commission forecast the Scottish economy could recover to pre-pandemic levels of economic output by the beginning of 2024, but KPMG believe that the recovery will be quicker and take place by mid-2022. The labour market may take longer to fully recover.
  • About 18% of Scottish businesses are expected to increase headcount through 2021.
  • Scottish Business Monitor report that the majority of businesses expect to reduce their office footprint by 11 to 25%.

Welsh labour market data is here:

  • The employment rate in Wales was 73.6%. This is 0.4 percentage points up on the quarter and 0.6 percentage points down on the year.
  • For March to May 2021 the unemployment rate for people aged 16+ in Wales was 3.9%, compared to 4.9% in the previous quarter (December 2020 to February 2021). This is a decrease of 16,000 people from the previous quarter to 59,000. The unemployment rate in Wales (3.9%) is lower than England (5.0%) and Scotland (4.4%) but higher than Northern Ireland (3.6%).
  • Early estimates for June 2021 indicate that the number of paid employees in Wales has increased by 15,700 (1.3%) over the month to 1.26 million. This is the largest monthly increase since the series began in 2014, and an increase of 35,900 since the lowest point during the pandemic in November 2020.

And data for the regions is here too:

  • The number of payrolled employees in June 2021 for the North East, North West, East Midlands and Northern Ireland were all above February 2020 levels.
  • Every region, except London, had their lowest number of payrolled employees in November 2020, while London did not have its lowest count until February 2021; London is the region that still has the furthest to recover, with payrolled employees still over 3% below pre-pandemic levels.
  • For the three months ending May 2021, the highest employment rate estimate in the UK was in the South East (77.7%) and the lowest was in Northern Ireland (70.3%); the North West saw the largest change compared with the previous year, with a decrease of 2.3 percentage points.
  • For the three months ending May 2021, the highest unemployment rate estimate in the UK was in London (6.5%) and the lowest was in Northern Ireland (3.6%); London and Wales both saw the largest change compared with the same period last year, with an increase of 1.2 percentage points.
  • For the three months ending May 2021, the highest economic inactivity rate estimate in the UK was in Northern Ireland (27.1%) and the lowest was in the South East (18.9%); the North West saw the largest change compared with the same period last year, with an increase of 1.8 percentage points.

For 'employee demands for flexible forms of working', 54% of employers expected an increase.

Also from Scotland – the Royal Bank of Scotland Report on Jobs for June:

  • For the fifth month in a row, the supply of permanent candidates across Scotland fell in June. Concerns regarding the pandemic meant many people were unwilling to switch roles, according to respondents.
  • The availability of temporary candidates across Scotland declined substantially during June. The respective seasonally adjusted index fell just over 14 points on the month to an all-time low, signalling the steepest downturn in temp staff supply on record.
  • Demand for permanent staff across Scotland rose sharply again during June. Across the monitored sectors, IT & Computing registered the quickest increase in vacancies, followed by Engineering & Construction.
  • Recruiters across Scotland registered a further rise in the number of temporary vacancies during June. Blue collar saw the strongest rise in vacancies of the monitored sectors during June, followed by IT & Computing.

The latest round of the ONS fast response experimental statistics on the impact of COVID were released on the 15th July.

  • 5% of the UK workforce were furloughed last week - this is approximately 1.2 million people.
  • 23% of the workforce worked solely from home last week.
  • Over 50% of businesses in the arts, entertainment and recreation and other service activities industries reported that turnover was lower than normal expectations, and 15% of the workforce - the highest of any industry - remains furloughed.
  • On 2 July 2021, the total volume of UK online job adverts was 129% of its February 2020 average level. The volume of online job adverts remained above their February 2020 average levels in all UK countries and English regions. When compared with pre-pandemic levels, they were strongest in the North East, Northern Ireland and the East Midlands, at 174%, 170% and 158% of their February 2020 average levels respectively.
  • In the week to 10 July 2021, overall retail footfall in the UK was at 74% of the level seen in the equivalent week of 2019.
  • 1% of currently trading businesses expect to make redundancies in the next three months, The top three industries reported to be making redundancies over the next three months were: administrative and support services activities (3%), manufacturing (3%), retail (2%).

ACAS have been examining employers expectations around flexible working:

  • Employers were asked, 'Thinking about once we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic… compared to before the pandemic, to what extent do you expect the following working practices to change at your company?' with the following response options: significantly increase, slightly increase, no change, slightly decrease, significantly decrease or don't know.
  • For 'employee demands for flexible forms of working', the results were: 54% expected an increase; 2% expected a decrease; 39% expected no change; and 5% did not know.
  • For 'the proportion of staff working remotely / at home part of the week', the results were: 55% expected an increase; 4% expected a decrease; 37% expected no change; and 4% did not know.
  • For 'the proportion of staff working remotely / at home all of the week', the results were: 49% expected an increase; 5% expected a decrease; 42% expected no change; and 4% did not know.

The Skills Commission have launched their new report on the careers system in the UK, Transition to Ambition: Navigating the careers maze. I gave evidence to this Commission and am quoted in the report. The lead recommendations are:

  1. Government should set the framework for a stable, longer-term careers strategy. This framework should have the following elements:
    • The Department for Education must maintain its 2017-2020 careers strategy for a lifespan of at least five more years.
    • The creation of an employer-led careers strategy advisory board, to provide long-term leadership and strategic direction on national careers strategy and government policies regarding careers, skills, education, training and employment.
    • Adequate longer-term funding for the CIAG system should be made available in the Spending Review 2021, with a parallel review to ensure best value is achieved.
  2. Careers advice and guidance should be a constituent part of all Plan for Jobs schemes, to ensure that these schemes are as useful as possible for those undertaking them.
  3. Government must work with telecommunications companies to coordinate and enforce the zero rating of educational and careers resources on mobile data, so that the use of these resources does not count towards users’ mobile data allocation.
  4. The Department for Education should ensure that the collection of job vacancy data piloted by LMI for All is implemented permanently as part of the portal, fully funded for the foreseeable future and actively promoted to all stakeholders who could make use of it, including the general public.
  5. Ofsted inspectors must assess and report on schools' compliance with the Baker Clause as a mandatory part of the inspection process.
  6. Government should create and fund a national scheme to help small businesses to hire a graduate for 6 to 12 months, boosting businesses’ adaptation to and recovery from COVID-19, while boosting graduates’ employability.
  7. Lifelong learning loans must be made truly flexible, so that people can take out a loan to study a qualification at whatever level they need in order to boost their employability, even if they already have an equivalent qualification at that level.
  8. The ESFA must widen the National Careers Service's priority groups for the rest of 2021/22, temporarily broadening them out to include people furloughed or at risk of redundancy regardless of their age, and those unemployed regardless of how long they have been unemployed.
  9. There must be much better communication of the existence and services of the National Careers Service, to ensure take-up of its services by all those who need careers advice and guidance.

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