From education to employment

Labour Market Statistics, June 2019: No news is good news overall, while employment of older people sets new records

Today’s labour market figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the UK unemployment rate holding at 3.8% for February to April 2019, the lowest since October to December 1974.

The employment rate also remained steady at 76.1%, the joint-highest figure since comparable estimates began in 1971. The economic inactivity rate was 20.8%, lower than for a year earlier (21.0%) and close to the record low.

The estimated number of vacancies in the jobs market was 837,000, 11,000 more than a year earlier but 12,000 lower than for December 2018 to February 2019.

Tom Hadley, Director of Policy and Campaigns at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, said:

“This morning’s figures show a familiar picture, with the UK labour market stuck in the same holding pattern that we have seen for the past few months. The overall picture remains positive, but with a few warning signs, such as declining vacancies.

“Our jobs market continues to demonstrate how robust it is, and continues to provide good work for more people than ever before with employment at a joint-record high and economic inactivity close to a record low.

“However, the fact that vacancy numbers are dropping is reflected in the REC’s Report on Jobs data, which shows a slight decline in permanent placements. At the same time, employers and recruiters are still struggling to find the staff to fill empty roles in sectors as diverse as healthcare, technology and logistics. Businesses are increasingly having to review current hiring procedures, as making the right hire at the right time can be crucial to maximising growth and productivity.”


As you have likely seen, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has today revealed that the UK has hit another record high for the number of people in employment, reaching 32.75 million.

Ben Frost (Solution Architect EMEA at recruitment specialists Korn Ferry) offered his thoughts on how employers can compete for talent in this competitive jobs market:

“Today’s employment stats have once again confirmed strong employment growth up and down the country, which is great news for companies and employees. The challenge, however, remains in competing for the right staff with the right skills.

“Not all businesses are in the financial position to offer monetary rewards to attract and retain top talent. However, for the most part employees’ expectations have begun to shift and so money is no longer necessarily the most effective way of rewarding staff or appealing to new talent.

“Companies need to look at benefits beyond financial incentives in order to attract the best talent. From flexible working schemes for a better work-life balance, to robust career development programmes and creative working environments, employers need to communicate the benefits associated with their brand.

“With this change in focus, organisations are able to attract and retain the best talent and so combat the current skills shortage that is affecting many industries”

Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), said:

“No news is good news in today’s jobs figures  – with the employment, unemployment and economic inactivity rates all the same as in May, and earnings growth virtually identical.  And given that today’s figures cover the period February to April, when the government was falling apart over Brexit and indicative votes, Ministers will for once be delighted that nothing has changed.  In fact, employment has ticked up ever so slightly in the last few months, to its highest ever level (32.75 million).

“Beneath this headline picture, there’s one big story today and quite a few smaller ones.

“The big story is in employment of older people.  Today’s figures set a new record for the number of people aged over 50 in work, rising above 10.5 million for the first time ever.  This is up by over 300 thousand in the last year – accounting for nearly all of the growth in employment overall. This employment growth has been driven in particular by more women in work (which has also set an overall record today).  More than one in four older people are now in work, and older people now account for one third of the workforce – up from a quarter a decade ago. 

“We should celebrate these changes, and the opportunities that an older workforce brings.  However we should also recognise some of the challenges – with our research finding that older people often value different things about work, and that employer support is often too narrowly focused.  It’s also important to remember that many more older people want to work and still struggle to find it, with more than one in five of the unemployed aged over 50 – a figure that hasn’t changed in the last year.

“Today’s figures are also noteworthy in seeing the continuation of some trends flagged up in previous months’ analysis. 

“Headline earnings levels continue to stagnate, in both actual and ‘real’ terms (taking account of inflation).  So while the year-on-year growth remains healthy, unless earnings start rising again soon we can expect to see the annual figures begin to fall back sharply from the autumn.  To put it another way, people may feel better off than a year ago, but they probably don’t feel much better off than they did at Christmas.  For whoever takes over as Prime Minister, addressing this will surely be near the top of their priorities.

“Temporary employment has also continued to fall – now reaching its joint lowest ever share of total employment (at just 5.4% of all those in work).  While this is welcome news for workers, it may also in part reflect increasing classification of ‘non-traditional’ work as permanent rather than temporary employment, following changes to tax rules (IR35).  In particular, the number of part time workers who cannot find a full-time job remains more than 200 thousand higher than before the recession (at 933 thousand).

“Finally, even with the labour market continuing to tighten, the number of long-term unemployed remains at 350 thousand – well above its levels before the recession, and now accounting for 27% of all unemployed.  With a further 1.8 million economically inactive people who want a job, it is clear that we can still do more to support people to prepare for and find work.”

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