Report reveals COVID-19 impact on local job market

The latest ‘ Job Report with Ulster Bank’ indicates recruitment is down but not out as the impact of the coronavirus is felt by employers and workers across Northern Ireland.

The economic shutdown has impacted livelihoods and job security in just a matter of weeks. Focusing on activity in March, the Job Report shows key sectors in Northern Ireland such as Hospitality and Fashion Retail are bearing the initial brunt of the health crisis. At the same time, jobs available in Nursing, Healthcare and Medical sector +50% while demand for workers in food production and food retail increased.

Despite a sharp decline in job listings in March, there has been a rise in online searches as businesses and jobseekers battle through the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a reflection of the impact of the crisis on workers, job searches using keywords including ‘temporary’ have increased 85% and immediate start’ have increased by 46% on the recruitment platform.

While 2019 ended with a record number of jobs and unemployment close to its recent all-time low, Northern Ireland’s labour market had already started to come off the boil in late 2019. 2020 had expected these recent trends to continue.  However, the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a sudden economic stop.  The labour market is traditionally a lagging indicator of economic activity. But such is the speed and ferocity of the current downturn, the lag between falling output and job losses is unusually short. Where demand has fallen off a cliff, jobs have followed.

In the UK and Northern Ireland, the hospitality sector has been in the frontline for job losses or ‘furloughing’. However, the UK’s official lockdown in late March has seen a whole range of consumer sensitive sectors, ranging from pubs and restaurants to car showrooms and shopping centres, shuttered. Swathes of the labour market have already been impacted but we won’t have the official Q1 and Q2 jobs figures until June and September respectively. Until the current health emergency passes and lockdowns are lifted, an improvement in labour market conditions is not expected.

The latest ‘ Jobs Report with Ulster Bank’ has captured the changed mood in firms’ hiring intentions. Hospitality and Retailing, Wholesaling & Purchasing were two employment categories with new lows in job listings. The quarterly data conceals the sheer speed and scale of the declines and listings in the drop that has occurred in March.

Looking at the March data reveals steep falls on a month-to-month basis. March posted a 63% fall in listings relative to February with the hospitality sector posting a monthly decline of almost 90%. Given the environment that is not surprising. Some sectors have held up rather well. Skills shortages and vacancies within the niche field of Big Data and Analytics have never been higher. The same holds true for Legal vacancies.

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