When Caroline Cousin was fired from her job as a legal secretary in Greater Manchester during the first lockdown, she was warned she could be too old to return to work.
“I didn’t know I was going to struggle as much as I did,” said the 60-year-old Rochdale player. “I was looking on job boards, but it’s like the Bermuda Triangle. You apply for things and never hear back.
UK employers could struggle to fill a million record vacancies amid the worst labor shortages in a generation – with a shortage of truck drivers, reception staff and other essential workers to economic reopening. But for millions of people like Cousin, navigating the job market remains difficult.
With holidays ending last week, hundreds of thousands of workers are likely to take a similar trip. Many of them are expected to take early retirement or put off their job search until their industry recovers.
Despite a gradual decline in recent months as companies scramble to recruit, official figures show unemployment is still nearly 200,000 higher than before Covid, standing at over 1.5 million.
Under the headlines, however, there are plenty more without work. More than 8.7 million people across Britain are not counted in the overall unemployment rate, but classified as “economically inactive” by government statisticians – a category of unemployment that has risen by more than 600,000 during the pandemic.
Most do not want a job because they may have health problems, be in school, or have taken early retirement. Yet official figures show that 1.7 million people would like to find work if only they had enough opportunities and support. Could this large potential workforce help solve the UK labor market crisis?
“This is one of the great untold stories in the job market right now,” said Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies. “When people ask ‘where are all the workers? The reality is that most of them are still there. “
Economic inactivity rates have skyrocketed during the pandemic. People with health problems have chosen to protect themselves from the virus rather than looking for work; young adults stayed with their parents or signed up for an additional year of study; and older staff retired prematurely amid the largest increase in layoffs on record.
Although life is returning to a certain sense of normalcy, concerns remain about the Delta coronavirus variant and a difficult winter ahead. A decade of austerity that has eroded the capacity of Britain’s network of employment centers, training and compensation systems has not been reversed, while the costs and lack of availability of child care children and adult welfare mean that entering the workplace is a failure for many.
Julia McNally, director of Liverpool in Work, a support program run by the local council and metro mayor’s office Steve Rotheram, helps thousands of job seekers every month. She has seen firsthand how many marginalized people have stopped looking for work in the past 18 months.
“There is a reluctance on the part of some people to re-enter the labor market. Obviously there are still issues with the virus, with kids being kicked out of school and this upheaval in people’s lives, ”she said.
“I hope this will start to take hold from now on. But you also have people who have reassessed their lives and said to themselves, “I don’t do this anymore, I don’t want to work with such bad pay, terms and conditions.
Business leaders and employment experts ask Rishi Sunak to use his budget this month to increase funds available to match job seekers with vacancies and to increase government investment in skills and training. Business leaders have called for visa programs to attract more migrant workers, although they recognize that more can be done to recruit in the country.
So far, the government has doubled the number of frontline workers at job centers – 27,000 work coaches were hired in just eight months – and launched both the Restart program from 2.9 billion pounds to help over 1 million long-term unemployed people, and the 2 billion Kickstart Program to help young people find jobs.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Our multibillion pound jobs plan provides people of all ages with the skills, support and experience to confidently seize this next opportunity. , increase their hours or find a new job. “
However, experts said much of the investment was simply helping UK job matching and training services keep pace with growing demand, rather than reversing years of downsizing. Employers must also do more to help workers.
“Jobcentre Plus does not regularly engage with people with long-term health problems or with parents. It risks being a follow-up service for applicants rather than a public employment service, ”Wilson said.
“But it’s not all about the government. When companies say they can’t find workers, it usually means they can’t find people with recent experience to do something for the pay and shifts they want to offer. They need to be more willing to meet the workers halfway.
Elizabeth Taylor, executive director of the Employment Related Services Association, which represents providers of jobs and training programs, said there were programs available but there was a lack of coordination to get them there. people.
Since the government launched Kickstart, less than 80,000 young people have joined the program. Yet it was designed to help 250,000 people and is due to be withdrawn at the end of December.
Young people have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, working in industries such as hospitality and retail, where the lockdown has been hit hardest.
“I think it’s a capacity issue in the job centers,” Taylor said. “I don’t believe the young people are not there, it’s just that they are not identified and referred.”
For Caroline Cousin, job search assistance came from a program run by the combined authority of Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and work program provider Ingeus. “My confidence was at its lowest, but they helped lift me up,” she said. “I knew I couldn’t afford to retire early. I had never had a hard time finding a job in the past, but I was probably naive not to realize how bad it was and how picky employers were.
With the help of her job coach, and after 14 interviews with numerous companies, she found work as a legal secretary in a law firm in Salford. “I would tell people, don’t give up. I felt like I had given up but then I was like, ‘No, no, no. I’ll find a job. And here I am. “