Julie Graham, CEO of Ingeus’s employability division, looks back over a turbulent year and sees signs of hope for 2022.

In these most unpredictable of times the rapid improvement in the labour market must be one of the most surprising trends as this difficult year ends.


At the end of last year, unemployment had risen to five per cent – at 1.7 million, the highest level since 2016 – following 12 months that saw a third of eligible jobs furloughed and record high redundancies of 370,000 in the third quarter.


It was only a host of Government-funded employment schemes, such as JETSRestart Scheme and Kickstart, that prevented the situation becoming even bleaker for jobseekers. Twelve months later the picture is changing quickly.


Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show a drop in unemployment to 4.3 per cent at 1.44 million – down 62,000 in the month to November – and job vacancies continuing to rise to a new record level of almost 1.2million, compared with 340,000 in the spring of 2020.
 
But let’s look beneath those encouraging figures. There is no escaping the fact that millions of livelihoods were devastated by the pandemic with some communities – the young, older people and those with disabilities – being particularly hardest hit. Indeed youth unemployment still stands at 13 per cent.
And while the odds for jobseekers have improved, with 1.3 unemployed people per vacancy, the route back to work is not straightforward.
 
The employment landscape has changed. Many people are finding that roles they once set their sights on are no longer available. One of our former Ingeus clients – Ian Duckworth – is a case in point. After a lifelong career in the travel industry he gave up work to support his terminally ill mother. By the time it came to resume his career his industry had been decimated.
 
He was referred to Ingeus’ JETS scheme, set up to support back into work those who have been unemployed for at least three months, and secured a position working from home in a telephone-based customer service role. Not the job he was looking for or necessarily wanted but, as he said at the time, it gave him a sense of purpose and new skills.
And he’s now putting those skills to good use after accepting a job with us, using his experience to support others who find themselves in similar positions as his own. You can read more of his story here. 
 
While we support our clients to find a job that’s right for their circumstances,  we firmly believe that just about any work experience is useful work experience. This applies in particular to those older people who have found themselves out of work for perhaps the first time and now struggling, like Ian, to resume their careers. I firmly believe this stepping stone approach can pay dividends.
 
You can learn transferable skills useful to prospective employers, such as communication, teamwork and problem solving, as well as demonstrating a ‘bounce-back-ability’ that marks you out as determined and flexible. Another good reason for taking a less obvious route to the job you want is the fact that work means more than just a pay packet.

A study for the Department for Work and Pensions found sound evidence that work benefits your physical and mental wellbeing. It gives you a sense of identity, a feeling that you have a worthwhile place in society and the chance to join a new community of people. Shock news: work is good for you!
 
So, as we stand on the threshold of a new year we know that employment confidence, measured by the number of companies expecting to take on employees versus those expected to lose them, stands at record levels. Job done for the employability specialists? Absolutely not.
 
Our role remains crucial, both for those trying to find their way into employment and for those 47 per cent of companies struggling with hard-to fill-vacancies. We have a vital role in helping the social and economic recovery of the country.
 
We will continue to monitor the labour markets to identify those sectors in biggest need of job-ready employees and that offer our clients the best opportunity of employment and all the benefits it brings. We will continue to encourage employers to look beyond their past recruitment practices by making their vacancies more attractive to ALL jobseekers, thus helping to close the gap for those who have been worst affected by the pandemic.
 
Yes, it’s been an incredibly tough year but, new covid variants aside, I feel more optimistic than I did in December 2020 and hopeful about the new landscape we are operating in.

Here’s to a happier new year.