What’s it really like to be looking for work right now?

by | Jul 8, 2020 | News

Working in the recruitment industry, over the past few months I’ve seen the number of jobs advertised fall by over 50% compared to the same time last year. At the peak of the crisis in April, the number of applications per job was 40% above what it was in February

Although the number of job opportunities is now starting to increase again as we unlock more sectors of the economy, by the end of June the number of applicants per job was still 16% above pre-coronavirus levels, making it pretty challenging for anyone looking for a job. We surveyed 650 jobseekers to find out more about what it’s really like.

Key findings: 

  1. Most people we surveyed who are actively looking for work right now are unemployed, with very few active job seekers in permanent employment. 
  1. Most of those actively looking are finding it difficult or very difficult to get a job, with the biggest barrier being lack of job opportunities
  1. The overwhelming majority of jobseekers that we surveyed are willing to make concessions if they need to retrain as part of a new job offer
  1. There is an urgent need for the Government and employers to act to increase employment opportunities:
    • Government reform to the apprenticeship levy to incentivise employers to support with retraining. 
    • Employer support for people changing industries through focusing job descriptions on transferable rather than industry specific skills
  2. Flexible working is increasingly becoming a deciding factor when deciding which organisation to work for. Employers will need to be mindful of this in order to attract the best talent. 

Who is looking for work right now? 

Most people that we surveyed who are actively looking for work right now are unemployed (58%); 32% were already unemployed before we went into lock down, whilst a further 26% became unemployed since the lockdown. Compared to previous surveys that showed a spread of motivations for looking for work, such as a promotion or a change of location, 32% of those actively looking say the primary motivation for their job search is needing employment. 

Whilst this may not be surprising, given the stories of job cuts and hiring freezes across the country, it highlights the vulnerable situation many jobseekers find themselves in, with finding a new job becoming a necessity for many people, rather than an aspiration. Of those actively looking, only 15% of those we surveyed were already in permanent employment, another 10% were furloughed and the remaining 19% were either in temporary work, under consideration for redundancy or self employed/ business owners looking for job opportunities.

How are people finding the job search? 

83% of those we surveyed who are actively looking for work are finding it either difficult or very difficult to get a job. 

Unsurprisingly, for many people, the biggest barrier by far is the lack of opportunities (39%). This is followed by lack of experience (13%). Hence, whilst one fifth of people said free training or courses would most support them in their job search, this clearly needs to be backed up by substantial creation of job opportunities, through opening up more industries and kickstarting economic growth. Other support jobseekers felt would benefit them included interview/ CV support (13%) and work experience opportunities (12%).

How are job seekers adapting? 

A majority of people (77%) who responded to our survey have used these challenging times to invest in their own development. From enhancing existing skills to developing new skills, or even to support a career change, it is clear that many people are now approaching the job search with boosted skills compared to where they were before. Nevertheless, they still recognise that they may need to retrain in order to get a new job. 

An even larger majority (81%) are willing to make concessions if they need to retrain as part of a new job offer, but most (77%) of those we surveyed won’t compromise on salary. The most common compromises included training outside of working hours (50%), longer probationary periods (42%) and contractual restrictions (such as the need to stay in the company for at least a year or have to reimburse training costs – 40%). Given that jobseekers are willing to be flexible in order to learn the skills they need to get a new job, it would be great if employers could compromise on some of the experience and skills requirements in their job descriptions and play their part in upskilling new recruits. However, for effective change in employer attitudes to retraining, there is a need for government incentives, such as a change in the requirements of the apprenticeship levy.

What are people looking for from their next job?  

Flexible working is increasingly becoming a deciding factor when choosing which organisation to work for, being favoured above company health, career development, diversity and inclusion and ethical principles. Amongst those we surveyed, the most important factors when deciding which organisation to work for were:

  1. Employee rewards & benefits (e.g. pension, healthcare) (36%)
  2. Flexible working arrangements (33%)
  3. The company’s financial health and stability (31%)
  4. Reputation for career development (26%)
  5. Diversity and inclusion (15%)
  6. Ethical principles (e.g. environmental policy) (14%)
  7. Well-known company name (8%)

If deciding between two job offers, salary, location and work/life balance were deemed to have the greatest impact, with 68% influenced by salary, 63% by location and 62% by work/life balance. Other influences included: ‘fit’ with the company’s vision, culture and values (42%), the training and development path available (40%) and the benefits offered (37%). 

What’s next?  

The good news is that more opportunities are being created every day as more industries are allowed to open up and get back to work. However, the upcoming changes to the job retention scheme requiring employer contributions will likely result in further job losses for those currently on furlough, which will increase candidate availability and competition for jobs. The real question is how many new jobs will be created over the coming months and how quickly will people be able to get back into work? 

In order to increase employment opportunities, there is a need for Government reform to the apprenticeship levy to incentivise employers to support retraining. This will need to be accompanied by employer support for people changing industries through focusing job descriptions on transferable rather than industry specific skills. 

Although ultimately the recovery of the employment market depends on controlling the virus and preventing a second wave, these steps would give job seekers the best chance of finding work in this very difficult environment.  

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