Key points:

  • Competition for jobs varies widely across the UK and is higher in places with weaker economies, with nine times more local candidates per job posting in Middlesbrough than in Cambridge.
  • Jobseekers tend to be less specific in their job searches in cities where jobs are scarcer, suggesting they cast a wider net in weaker labour markets.
  • Competition for jobs has risen most in cities where jobs were already in short supply, raising concerns that geographic inequality could rise and posing a challenge to the Government’s levelling up agenda.

Covid-19 brought the British economy nearly to a halt, but job searches have carried on. As the pandemic took hold, unemployment claims rose rapidly and over 1.4 million CVs have been updated on Indeed since the start of the lockdown. At the same time, vacancies have plummeted as businesses struggle to cope, making it a lot tougher to find work. But jobseekers are not facing the same degree of competition everywhere in the UK.

Wide local differences

Job search and CV data through June shows wide local differences. Unlike the claimant count, which includes people filing for unemployment-related benefits regardless of whether they are looking for a job, activity on Indeed — the UK’s most-visited job site — captures actual job searches. Indeed data are representative of the regional distribution of people looking for jobs, according to the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey. Thus, comparing the number of jobseekers and job postings on Indeed measures the intensity of competition for jobs in local areas.

Such an analysis reveals the extent of disparities across the country. At the extremes, competition for each job in Middlesbrough is nine times greater than in Cambridge. Sunderland, Dundee and Luton also have large numbers of local jobseekers for each available job, while Oxford, Reading, Exeter, Bristol and London are among the places with the fewest local jobseekers per job posting.

Competition for jobs varies greatly across the UK
This chart shows CVs and job postings by primary urban area, April – June 2020 by competition rank for jobs highlighting competition for jobs varies greatly across the UK. The highest competition for jobs happens in the following primary urban areas: 1. Middlesbrough, 3.0 local CVs per job posting; 2. Sunderland, 2.2 CVs per job posting; 3. Dundee, 1.9 CVs per job posting; 4. Luton, 1.8 CVs per job posting; 5 – 7, Burnley, Birkenhead, and Barnsley all with 1.7 local CVs per job posting; 8. Bradford, 1.6 local CVs per job posting; 9. Huddersfield, 1.6 local CVs per job posting; and at 10. Hull with 1.6 local CVs per job posting. The lowest competition for jobs happens in the following primary urban areas: 54 – 56. Swindon, York, and Belfast, 0.8 local CVs per job posting; 57 – 59, Aldershot, London, and Bristol all with 0.7 local CVs per job posting; 60 & 61, Exeter and Reading, both with 0.6 local CVs per job posting; 62. Oxford, 0.4 local CVs per job posting; and Cambridge at the bottom with 0.3 local CVs per job posting.
Local CVs per job posting
Map of UK with colored dots representing the amount of local CVs per job posting by primary urban areas as indicated by the chart above.

Unsurprisingly, places where jobs are scarcer tend to have weaker economies. The 10 cities with the largest competition for jobs are on average 13% less productive and have 36% fewer people with high-level qualifications — a key indicator of success for a local economy — than the 10 cities with the least competition. 

It doesn’t help that these most-competitive places for jobseekers were also the least likely to switch to home-working during the lockdown, suggesting these localities were less able to adapt to the challenges Covid-19 posed to the labour market. While approximately four in 10 workers in Cambridge, London and Reading could work from home during the lockdown, fewer than two in 10 in Middlesbrough, Barnsley or Doncaster were able to do so.

Competition for jobs has risen everywhere during the crisis, but more so in places where it was already hardest to find work. Compared with a year ago, the rise in the number of candidates per job posting is approximately three times greater in Luton, Middlesbrough and Sunderland than in Cambridge, Oxford and Reading. The disparity threatens to widen already-substantial geographic inequality in access to jobs.

Competition for jobs has risen more in the most competitive places
Scatter plot showing annual increase in local CVs per job posting, April – June 2020 highlighting competition for jobs has risen more in the most competitive places.
Competition for jobs has grown six times more in Luton than in Cambridge
This table shows the change in the ratio of CVs to job postings on Indeed by primary urban area, April – June 2020 highlighting competition for jobs has grown six times more in Luton than in Cambridge. The biggest increases in competition for jobs happened in the following primary urban areas: 1. Luton, 1.04 change; 2. Middlesbrough, 0.93 change; 3 – 4. Dundee and Sunderland at 0.83 change; 5. Aberdeen, 0.80 change; 6. Burnley, 0.73 change; 7. Huddersfield, 0.72 change; 8. Plymouth, 0.72 change; 9. Coventry, 0.69 change; 10. Birkenhead, 0.67 change. The smallest increases in competition for jobs happened in the following primary urban areas: ranked 54 – 56, Swansea, Exeter, and Warrington all saw a 0.38 change; 57 – 58, Aldershot and Swindon with 0.37 change; 59 – 60, London and Mansfield both saw a 0.36 change; 61. Reading, 0.31 change; 62. Oxford, 0.27 change; and Cambridge at number 63 with a 0.18 change.

More blank queries

That’s not the only geographic difference. In cities where jobs are harder to come by, jobseekers tend to be less focused in their search. A popular way to search on Indeed is to specify a location in the ‘where?’ box and leave the ‘what?’ box blank, in what might be called the ‘I’ll take anything’ approach to finding work. Across the UK, the share of searches with blank ‘what?’ boxes rose 5 percentage points to 28% over the year to June 2020, with most of the increase happening in March. In the 25% of cities with the largest number of jobseekers per job posting, 34% of searches were blank in June compared with 29% in the 25% of cities with the least competition for jobs. At the extremes, only 18% of London searches were blank in June compared with 54% in Dundee.

Jobseekers cast a wider net where they face more competition
This bar graph shows searches for any job as a share of all searches, June 2020 highlighting jobseekers cast a wider net where they face more competition.

Implications for jobseekers, employers and policymakers 

These findings have three important implications for jobseekers, employers and policymakers. First, the labour market is getting more competitive for candidates. Opportunities in low-paid occupations — where entry requirements tend to be lower — have been hit particularly hard. That means having the right skills makes a bigger difference than ever in getting hired.  

Second, employers are likely to receive lots of applications from people in other sectors, especially where the local labour market is weak. Finding the right candidate for a job requires adapting to this new environment, for example, by using technology to process high volumes of applications in ways that assess relevant transferable skills.

Third, geographic inequalities appear to be widening significantly, which means levelling up has a crucial role to play in the post Covid-19 economic recovery. Last week’s announcements by the Chancellor, including the launch of the Kickstart Scheme, are useful steps to counter rising  unemployment, especially among young people. But our analysis suggests that, to create equal opportunities for everyone in the UK, jobs must be created everywhere in the country. That should be a central focus of the Autumn Spending Review. 

This post was published concurrently on the Centre for Cities blog.


We calculated CVs per job posting in 63 of the UK’s largest cities and towns by dividing the number of CVs uploaded or updated on Indeed between 1st April and 30th June by the number of job postings available at some point during that period in each locality. The results measure the number of local candidates with an up-to-date job search profile on Indeed in relation to the number of available job opportunities.

We aggregated the results by Primary Urban Area – a measure of the built-up area of a city – based on the contact address on CVs and the location of the job. We used Primary Urban Areas in our analysis because they provide a consistent measure of economic activity in urban areas across the UK. A complete list is available here.

We measured productivity for the ten cities with the highest and lowest competition for jobs using GDP per worker in 2018. To measure workforce qualifications, we used the proportion of the working-age population with qualifications at level 4 (university degree) or higher in 2018.