From education to employment

Labour Market Tracker: December labour demand was lower than in previous years but labour shortages are still supporting activity – REC

group of workers in office
  • The number of active postings in the month of December 2023 was 1,710,492, a 24.3% decrease from the month before (November 2023) and a 32% decrease from December 2022 (2,516,973). There were 2.8 million active vacancies in the month of December 2021.
  • Notable increases in adverts for prison service officers (+34.7%), authors, writers, and translators (+10.3%) and air transport operatives (+4%).
  • In December 2023 Tower Hamlets (-7.7%), Haringey and Islington (-11.0%) and the Orkney Islands (-12.0%) had the softest decline in job postings when compared to November 2023.
  • There were 656,481 new job postings in December 2023 – a 27.7% decrease from the month before and a 27% decrease from December 2022 (899,049).

Despite falls relative to previous years, demand overall is still substantial, with the latest Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) and Lightcast Labour Market Tracker showing 1.7 million active job postings in December.

December is always a quiet month for recruitment, as Christmas hiring is generally completed and clients tend to postpone new activity into January, so the fall in posting numbers from November is no surprise. By contrast, the like-for-like comparison with the previous two Decembers, which came amid the post-pandemic sugar rush of hiring, emphasise the sequential slowing of the market in 2023.

REC Chief Executive Neil Carberry said:

“It is little surprise that jobs postings were muted in December because employers tend to have completed Christmas hiring by November, and then postpone new activity until the new year.

“The labour market weakened across 2023, especially for permanent roles. But it did so from a very high base. Comparing with previous Decembers, we can see a significant fall from the levels of activity in previous post-pandemic festive periods. It is important to remember that activity levels overall remain relatively high by comparison to pre-pandemic norms, and unemployment is low. There remains opportunity out there for jobseekers, especially in growing sectors.

“Anecdote and client survey data suggests there is hope for more growth in the market this year. As the economy grows, businesses will be looking to government to use the Spring Budget to unlock labour supply with action from welfare-to-work programmes to skills reform and a more sensible debate on immigration.”

Neil Carberry added:

“Uncertainty about the economy this year means we must make sure we support young people as they leave education. This must include rethinking the Apprenticeship Levy to re-focus levy money on 16–24-year-olds and those most in need – and more flexibility so that businesses can use it for high quality shorter training courses that will help plus skills gaps.”

Occupations with notable increases in adverts in December 2023 include prison service officers (+34.7%), authors, writers, and translators (+10.3%), air transport operatives (+4%) and speech and language therapists (+3.0%). Psychotherapists and cognitive behavioural therapists (-3.7%), dental nurses (-6.4%) and childminders (-6.6%) follow with the softest declines in job postings this month.

Manual labour roles were not particularly in demand during the December timeframe, with painters and decorators (-41.1%), packers, bottlers, canners and fillers (-40.5%) and road transport drivers (-40.2%) showing the lowest growth in job adverts.

When looking at the top ten counties/unitary authorities for growth in active job postings, five were based in London. This suggests a more encouraging trend for the capital’s job market and economy than reported in alternative recent jobs surveys.

Of the bottom ten areas with the lowest growth in active job postings, five were in Scotland and four were in Northern Ireland. This chimes with the REC/KPMG Scotland Report on Jobs which found that overall demand for staff weakened further, with both permanent and temp vacancies declining markedly in December.

Across the UK, Tower Hamlets (-7.7%), Haringey and Islington (-11.0%) and Orkney Islands (-12.0%) had the softest decline in job postings when compared to November 2023. Belfast (-34.2%), Fermanagh and Omagh (-34.3%) and East Dunbartonshire (-41.5%) all accounted for the sharpest decline in job postings.

Related Articles