UK Employment Figures, March 2020: Pre-Pandemic Data Show Calm Before Coronavirus Storm


UK’s jobs market started the year from a strong position but the situation is changing rapidly.

Labour market data are typically produced with a lag as it takes time to process information from surveys of individuals and businesses across the country. The latest figures show the UK jobs market started the year where it left off: in a position of strength. However, it’s important to know they do not yet reflect any impact of the Coronavirus outbreak and how the pandemic might affect employer and jobseeker behaviours alike.

The figures released on 17 March paint a positive, but now outdated, picture of a labour market that needs to adapt to a completely new reality. They show employment through January and vacancies through February — well before the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a pandemic. January’s joint record high employment rate and the record low inactivity rate — two metrics which show a labour market in rude health — are now likely to be high watermarks.

For the time being, businesses are still hiring and the number of jobs posted on Indeed is broadly similar to where it was this time last year. But we are already seeing early signs of change in the jobs market. 

Crucially, the types of jobs employers are recruiting for have changed, as the economy adapts to the challenges imposed by the Coronavirus. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there has been an unseasonal fall in job postings in the hospitality and travel sectors — two areas most immediately impacted by the virus restrictions. Conversely, there has been a surge in job postings for delivery drivers and warehouse workers on Indeed — as retailers restructure their supply chains to take food and goods direct to the thousands of people now spending more time at home.

While the jobs market has started the year from a position of strength, it is rapidly heading into uncharted territory.

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