There are loads of jobs - but only for those who already have one

Why the rise in vacancies won't help the unemployed.

There was a 21-month high in job vacancies in January - caused by a "reduction in candidate availability", according to Tom Hadley, REC director of policy who spoke to the Telegraph today. "Good news for workers", he concluded.

It is good news for workers - but only for workers. The currently unemployed (who are, for the most part, untrained) are unlikely to benefit from the growth in demand. Workers, on the other hand, will be fought over. Hadley's most telling word, here, is "candidate": it's not that there aren't enough people to fill the jobs - it's just that there aren't enough with the right skills.

The gap between the unskilled unemployed and the skilled employed is starting to become unbridgeable. Despite growing youth unemployment, the Economist reported last December that more than a third of employers worldwide had trouble filling jobs. This is likely to get worse, too. At one end the number of unemployed will continue to expand - unhired and unskilled, and at the other employers will be fighting over the most desirable employees, causing wage inflation in some places.

Last year I wrote about this finding from Mckinsey, which seems to show extra education is a good idea right now, in terms of your future employment prospects. Here's a handy visual guide:

Now is certainly the time to skill up. But they have to be the right kind of skills. There seems to be a disconnect between educators and employers - the sectors crying out for workers (IT, engineering), match the university courses with the empty lecture halls.

How do you address this? Well, one idea is to pour money into apprentice schemes and funded places at technical colleges - which the government is, to some extent, doing. (For example, there's the Employer Ownership Pilot, a 250m funded training scheme for employers).

It's possibly worth mentioning that South Korea are a little ahead of the game here - they have created a series of new "meister" schools - well funded technical colleges that aim to address the country's machine operator and plumber shortage. (The word "meister" is, apparently, an attempt to add kudos to an otherwise lower status education path.)

But what to do while the skills catch up with the potential work force? One option would be to make it easier for employers to recruit talent from abroad - although it's a long and bureaucratic process to get talented workers in from other countries, and the immigration cap isn't helping either. But right now we have shrinking options: perhaps it's time to call for reinforcements.

 
Vacancies abound. Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.