Work in progress: analysing the first-quarter for jobs and retail

Man at laptop in front of a screen

Job vacancies continued to fall in the first three months of this year as economic pressures forced bosses to hold back on recruitment.

The latest labour market figures from the ONS showed that economic uncertainty was still putting pressure on companies, as indicated by the number of jobs being posted and growth in wages.

The estimated number of vacancies also fell for the ninth consecutive quarter, dropping by 47,000 to just over 1.1 million. Availability of jobs fell in 13 of the 18 industry sectors tracked by the ONS.

Dan Crook, Protection Sales Director, at Canada Life noted that Economic inactivity remained high despite as the labour shortage, partly attributed to the exodus of older workers.

But he added: “As the cost-of-living crisis continues to squeeze the household finances of many, we may begin to see a reversal of this trend as people choose to unretire to cope with inflated costs.

“This represents a significant opportunity for employers to not only focus on attraction and retention, but to entice older workers back into the workforce, creating diversity of thought and age.

“While there has already been commitment from the government to encourage over-50s back into the workplace, employers must remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In order to create an inclusive environment for all, working practices must change and flexibility will be critical.”

On a personal level, as a dad of four, it’s just about making sure we’re doing all we can to make our money go as far as possible

Ylva Oertengren, COO of Simply Asset Finance felt that, as unemployment rises, part of fixing the problem will now lie in fixing the SME skills shortage.

“With businesses struggling to retain staff, or having to make challenging cuts to workforces, it is clear the labour market is feeling the impact of economic tightening in the first quarter of the year,” she said.

“The industry will now need to set its sights on the talent gaps that still remain for SMEs. Towards the end of last year, the British Chambers of Commerce estimated that more than two-thirds them have been facing skills shortages.

“Fixing this will mean a combined effort from businesses, and the government to support more talent entering the SME market, which in turn will help to reduce the skills gap they are facing and improve business productivity overall.”

Others pointed to the findings that highlighted the worsening state of the current consumer credit crisis. Mat Megens, founder of budgeting app, HyperJar, said data on consumer behaviour paints a picture of a nation stretched to its financial limits. Inflation rising again in February to 9.2 per cent has forced one in five of us to rely on borrowing or credit to make ends meet.

“It’s extremely sad to see how much the cost-of-living crisis is affecting people and their families across the UK,” he said. “Feeling worried about our personal situation is one thing, but when others are depending on us it just compounds the stress. On a personal level, as a dad of four, it’s just about making sure we’re doing all we can to make our money go as far as possible.

“There’s a shift in grocery shopping habits among our customers as they move from the higher-end supermarkets to the mid-tier and discounters. Frequency of visits is increasing dramatically as people ‘shop like chefs’, buying more often so they get only what they need and reduce waste.

The old incumbents have shown they can rapidly pivot, approaching new technology as a way to enhance the sprawling operations they already have

“So, while basket value is stable, overall, monthly spend is higher, reflecting both food inflation as well as people eating at home more rather than dining out.”

Martin Pateman-Lewis, Engagement Director at Ensono, noted that the 0.9 per cent drop in retail sales volumes indicate the difficulty facing retailers throughout the UK.

“The findings will come as no surprise to those who work closely with the retail sector – the challenges of 2023 are starting to take their toll,” he said. “The declines we have seen for both in-person and internet retailing shows today’s economic pressures are being felt sector-wide and require new approaches to stay ahead. For years retailers have been told they need to digitally transform to survive. The trailblazers in retail haven’t all come from the new players.

“The old incumbents have shown they can rapidly pivot, approaching new technology as a way to enhance the sprawling operations they already have. They’re not reinventing the wheel and overhauling their entire infrastructure but rather chipping away at the outside layers by investing in small projects with an immediate outcome.

“Crucially, these retailers invest in projects that have a direct link to customer experience, for example, by reducing wait times or improving ease of checkout. This is where data plays a central role. Tapping into this resource equips retailers to build a full understanding of customer behaviour, helping them deliver personalised and memorable experiences at scale.

“Ultimately, the name of the game is agility, flexibility, and reliability. Retailers need to continue incorporating technology that builds trust in their brand and not only meets customer expectations but exceeds them.”