Even as the number of employees on payroll in the UK has recovered to pre-pandemic levels, the number of job vacancies has hit a record high, according to data released by the Office of National Statistics this week. Between July and September, the ONS recorded over 1.1 million vacancies, the highest in a decade, and the current ratio of vacancies to jobs filled is 3.7 per 100 jobs - also the highest on record.
The manpower shortage continues a trend that started in May as the UK rushed to reopen its economy in the wake of massive business closures. At the time, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development warned that a sharp drop in the number of EU workers - itself a trend dating back to Brexit and worsened by the pandemic - might lead to labour shortages, especially in lower-paid service sectors.
That prediction has unfolded accurately over the last few months, with shortages first emerging in hospitality and retail, then transport and manufacturing, and now even higher-paying sectors such as finance, IT, and engineering - although the shortages in the latter two might arguably have happened anyway.
The latest ONS figures show that vacancies have been growing fastest in transport and storage (56.1% growth in the last quarter), where the manpower crunch has already hit the staples of food and energy. Earlier this year, an acute shortage of truck drivers led to gas stations, supermarkets, and F&B outlets - among others - being unable to resupply.
In absolute numbers, wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles added the most vacancies (35,100) last quarter. Accommodation and food services has the highest number of vacancies per 100 jobs filled (5.9) while hospitality businesses are likely to face the most difficulty filling vacancies.
The manpower crunch is not likely to ease any time soon. While the ONS recorded slower growth in the number of vacancies as compared to the preceding quarter, the current vacancy growth rate is still over 27%. And the Confederation of British Industry predicted earlier this year that the labour shortage might last for the next two years.