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The UK has more job vacancies than ever before and businesses blame Brexit

A masked person serves coffee in a London cafe.
Reuters/Henry Nicholls
Scarce resource.
  • Cassie Werber
By Cassie Werber

Cassie writes about the world of work.

Published Last updated

The UK now has more unfilled jobs than at any time since record-keeping began back in 2002, as a number of factors including the loss of European Union workers after Brexit is felt ever more keenly.

According to the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS), there were more than 1.1 million job vacancies in July through September of this year, with 12 of the 18 sectors monitored reaching record highs.

It’s a startling spike, made more dramatic by the Covid-19 slump that preceded it, but sizable even without it.

Hospitality is the industry with the biggest need for workers, the ONS said, with three in ten businesses struggling to fill vacancies. After hospitality, the water and health industries were finding it hardest to recruit.

The UK has been experiencing deepening labor and supply problems: A shortage of truck drivers to make fuel deliveries led to a recent fuel crisis that saw petrol stations across the country run dry. Supermarket shelves have been left empty, and consumers have seen higher prices for everything from food to transport. Some of the factors are global, like a crunch in global shipping supply lines, while others are more specific to a small island nation that recently broke away from all its nearest trading partners.

Car and motorbike mechanics are in demand

The largest quarterly increase was in job postings for car and motorbike mechanics, which were up 32% compared to the previous three month period, the ONS said. Large firms are most likely to be struggling to fill vacancies.

The UK government has played down the extent to which Brexit—for which prime minister Boris Johnson campaigned—is to blame for the problems facing companies seeking elusive new staff. But businesses tell a different story: Across all industries, one in four businesses struggling to hire said that a reduced number of European Union applicants was a factor, the ONS reported. In the transport and storage sector, almost half (46%) said it was a factor.

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