UK job vacancies hit highest level in a year as e-commerce booms

LaToya Harding
·3-min read
A branch of Jobcentre Plus in London. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
A branch of Jobcentre Plus in London. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

Job vacancies in the UK have soared to their highest level in a year as a surge in e-commerce sparked the need for more warehouse and delivery staff.

According to Indeed Flex, employers have boosted their temporary workforce since last year in order to cope with customer orders and rising online sales as the coronavirus pandemic forces more people to shop online.

The flexible work and management platform, which was formerly known as Syft and acquired by global job site Indeed in 2019, analysed the fastest rising job terms between 1 February 2020 and 1 March 2021.

It found that searches for “warehouse,” “picker” and “delivery driver” climbed over the period.

Picker job searches, which involve people picking items and preparing them for delivery, more than doubled, up 103%, while warehouse associate and warehouse operative job searches rose 82% and 55%, respectively. Delivery drivers recorded a 79% increase.

Other industries also saw a rise in interest, including retail, restaurants and pubs, and other customer-facing services which are due to reopen on 12 April under Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown.

Interest in bar and waitressing jobs has grown by 98% and 60%, respectively, in the past two weeks alone, while food and preparation occupations jumped by 21% in the three weeks to 12 March.

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It comes as e-commerce now accounts for 36% of all retail spending. In February last year internet shopping accounted for 19.1%, however, lockdowns and restrictions changed consumer behaviour and drove this figure to a record high of 36.3%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

“COVID-19 slammed the brakes on the UK jobs market and left many people wondering where to turn to next but as the vaccination programme continues apace and the economy slowly reopens, there is light at the end of the tunnel and thousands of new roles are becoming available every week,” Jack Beaman, chief executive and co-founder at Indeed Flex, said.

“We know people were increasingly seeking flexible working options before the pandemic and our research shows there has been a rise in searches for part-time work since the first lockdown.”

It comes as retail sales rebounded slightly in February as Brits spent money on home improvement projects and lawn furniture in preparation for easing lockdown restrictions.

Official figures published by the ONS last week showed UK retail sales rose by 2.1% last month, in line with forecasts.

February's sales were boosted by strong demand for household goods. Sales in this category rose by 16%.

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The ONS said there was "anecdotal evidence" this rise was caused by demand for "DIY products as consumers continue to improve their homes during lockdown" and demand for outdoor furniture "in preparation for the easing of lockdown restrictions, particularly the ability to meet friends and relatives in private gardens as the weather improves."

Retail sales "only partly recovered in February," the ONS cautioned. Rising sales in February followed a sharp slump in January as the UK returned to lockdown. Non-essential shops were ordered to shut, leaving only a handful of retailers such as supermarkets and pharmacists open.

Sales in February were 3.7% below pre-pandemic levels. Clothing sales were 50% lower than a year ago.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said at the time: "UK stores have now lost a whopping £27 billion from lost sales during the three lockdowns. This is already impacting retail employment, with 67,000 retail jobs lost between December 2019 and 2020."

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