WaveTrackR December data reveals stable job and applications figures

It is fast becoming clear that the start of 2021 will be far from the recovery period we had all once hoped it would be, which makes December’s WaveTrackR data all the more encouraging.

Even as the year was closing – when the trend is for jobs and applications to drop significantly – both jobs and applications registered some of the best values of 2020, at 27% above the January-March average and +64% respectively. Whether that’s due to the imminent rollout of the vaccination programme boosting business and consumer confidence, or the end of the second lockdown at the beginning of the month prompting consumer spend and renewed optimism – likely a sprinkling of both – it represented a relatively stable end to a tumultuous year.


Looked at from a weekly perspective, applications experienced something of a rollercoaster ride. They started the month at 79% above the January-March average (a 20% increase from the previous week) before a gradual and then a fairly sharp drop to 28% above that average by the penultimate week of the month – all completely normal for this time of year when the nation winds down for Christmas. As December came to an end and the first few days of the new year played out, applications had risen once more to 54% above the January-March 2020 average – a good sign that job seekers are returning to activity as 2021 begins.


Across the month, applications dipped by over 20% but that is not unusual as thoughts turn to Christmas and the prevailing mood amongst jobseekers is to start afresh in the new year. And given the extremely challenging year, many candidates have had, it is not surprising that they took a break to re-examine their strategy and recalibrate, ready to start again in January.


Jobs rose from 31% above the January-March average to +51% at the beginning of the month, before dipping slightly to +47% and then falling steeply over the last two weeks of the month, ending the year at 61% below the January-March average. Given those final two weeks are spread over the Christmas holidays when many businesses at least partially close that is not surprising. However, across the entire month jobs were only 1% under the highest they had been all year (that accolade goes to October) which would be noteworthy in any year considering job postings tend to dwindle as the year draws to a close.


When it comes to an industry breakdown, Public Sector and Health & Nursing (at 17% and 15% respectively) shot up to claim first and second place as the industries that posted the highest number of jobs in December. The fact that those sectors don’t feature in the most popular industries for applications makes it starkly apparent that there is a skills shortage in those sectors. Both will be stretched due to the pandemic and are clearly not getting the candidates they need.


The top three industries when it came to job posts in November (Education, IT & Internet and Property at 15%, 12% and 10% respectively) are still within the top five in December as well as in the top five for applications, suggesting demand continues to be met in these sectors. However, what also remains unchanged from November is the high number of applications being received in the Recruitment Sales and Engineering industries without the jobs to match demand.    


The trend for December is a significant reduction in both jobs and applications so for them to be registering healthy figures is encouraging, particularly as we enter another lockdown. The new year has brought with it a startling increase in Covid cases and the tightening of restrictions across the whole of the UK which will likely cause jobs to dip and applications to rise as unemployment increases. However, it is important to remember that January has also provided us with a fresh wave of hope as the Oxford vaccination was approved and rollout of both vaccines begin in earnest. And hope is a potent force in the economy and the jobs market.

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