One-in-five businesses had been ready to grow their workforce this autumn – before the surge in Covid cases led to another lockdown.
Results from the British Chambers of Commerce Quarterly Recruitment Outlook, in partnership with Totaljobs, found that the number of firms attempting to recruit in the third quarter of 2020 had increased on the previous quarter, albeit from historic lows.
The survey, carried out in August and September, found that:
37% of firms attempted to recruit in Q3, higher than the historic low in Q2 (25%) but still below pre-Covid levels (55% in Q1).
Businesses within the construction (48%) and transport/distribution (44%) sectors were among the most likely to recruit. Hotels and catering firms (30%) were the least likely to recruit.
Micro firms (fewer than 10 employees) were much less likely to attempt recruitment than medium-sized or large firms.
Looking ahead, 62% of firms were expecting no change to the size of their workforce in the coming three months, 18% expected it to increase (up from 12% in Q2) while 19% anticipated a decrease (down from 29% in Q2).
The survey is the largest of its kind in the UK, based on 6,400 responses predominantly from SMEs employing fewer than 250 staff.
It follows the BCC’s latest Quarterly Economic Survey, which found that business conditions remained weak in the third quarter, despite much of the economy reopening.
Overall, Totaljobs saw 69% more job advertisements on its website in Q3 compared to Q2, and a 27% month-on month increase in the number of jobs advertised in September compared with August.
Following a sharp decline in the number of jobs advertised in late March and April, vacancies on Totaljobs’ website are now at 68% of the level they were before the pandemic struck.
Totaljobs’ data suggests that increases in vacancies may be the result of the economy regearing itself as a result of the pandemic with construction, logistics, manufacturing and healthcare roles seeing the largest rises in vacancies.
Construction vacancies almost doubled in Q3, while logistics vacancies more than doubled, jumping 132%. The number of manufacturing and production roles increased by 86% but the number of public sector and healthcare vacancies grew by 8%.
Although there were more roles advertised, the number of candidates on Totaljobs’ website continued to outstrip vacancies, with a 23% increase in Q3.
Rob Johnston, Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: “The survey paints a picture of a tentative recovery with construction, logistics and manufacturing leading the way.
“Unfortunately, no sooner had the research been completed than Covid restrictions began to be tightened again and we’re now facing a full national lockdown of at least a month, coinciding with the vital pre-Christmas trading period.
“Inevitably, this will undermine the recovery and put it into reverse.”
He added: “The temporary extension of the Job Retention Scheme, in line with a new lockdown, will bring short-term relief to many firms. Chambers will continue to work with the Treasury to ensure that support is commensurate with restrictions and helps firms endure further periods of extended closure.”