How Harrogate Jobcentre is playing an important role in tackling town's jobs gap

Fears that the end of furloughing would see a rise in unemployment have failed to materialise, not least in the Harrogate district which is instead facing a different sort of jobs crisis. Graham Chalmers visited Harrogate Jobcentre to learn how it is helping local employers tackle the recruitment problem.

Friday, 26th November 2021, 2:21 pm
Harrogate Jobcentre is renewing its effort to plug the jobs gaps by working closer than ever with its partners and employers.

The Harrogate job market’s remarkable resilience in the face of a pandemic may be demonstrated in the latest unemployment figures but the town is still facing one economic challenge common to England as a whole - recruitment.

The Government’s furlough scheme may have ended but the surprise news is that jobless figures in Harrogate are still continuing to fall.

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Mark Riedel, Harrogate and Skipton Jobcentres Partnership Manager, told the Harrogate Advertiser the centre was seeing the effects of staffing shortages.

The total of 1,695 people claiming employment-related benefits in Harrogate in October 2021 compared to 1,745 in the previous month, represents an unemployment rate of 2.8% - two per cent lower than the national figure.

The youth unemployment figures locally also show a significant drop with only 250 people claiming unemployment-related benefits in October compared to 280 in September.

But, if proof were needed the district has been unable to emerge completely unscathed from the twin impacts of Covid and Brexit, it comes in the number of businesses desperate to hire new staff, but unable to do so.

Mark Riedel, Harrogate and Skipton Jobcentres Partnership Manager, told the Harrogate Advertiser the centre was seeing the effects of staffing shortages in the care sector, hospitality and retail, in particular, but was working hard to address the situation.

“It’s been a busy time for us. Employers are always coming to us asking for help, especially in cafes and care homes.

“They are starting to ask for people with fewer qualifications and a ‘can do’ approach.

“Our activity is very much concentrated on improving recruitment in the key industries, such as hospitality, retail and care.”

As part of that big push by Harrogate Jobcentre, Mr Riedel pointed to the effectiveness of Kickstart in helping young people find work.

Last month saw 15 employers use Harrogate Jobcentre in October to help them recruit through Kickstart, a Government scheme which provides funding to create new jobs for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit at risk of long term unemployment.

“We’ve done really well with Kickstart, as the figures show, " said Mr Riedel. We’re also trying to clear up misconceptions that you have to be under 24 to get an apprenticeship. This isn’t the case. We liaise closely with Harrogate College to encourage people to take up apprenticeships.”

One local employer with first-hand evidence of the benefits of Kickstart is Knaresborough-based Better Connect.

Its programmes manager Hannah Prole said the feedback on the scheme was “extremely positive”.

“As a Kickstart employer and gateway we have received fantastic support from the team at Harrogate Jobcentre,” she said. “We have loved bringing young people into our organisation and have had one young person successfully secure full-time employment with us.

“Feedback has been extremely positive from the young people themselves.

“It has been a joy to support young people through the Kickstart scheme and see them develop.”

Harrogate Jobcentre acknowledges there has been a slight “blip” on figures for the number of people claiming Universal Credit in Harrogate.

As of October 14, there was a total of 9,527 UC claimants in the town, up 100 from the previous month.

Harrogate Jobcentre’s focus in the run-up to the festive season is on the Christmas jobs which will help support the economy at this crucial part of the year for the town.

“Taking on a job just before Christmas, even if temporary, is a great way for jobseekers to build key skills and confidence. It’s also a good way of giving themselves the best chance of securing a permanent role if one becomes available.

“I’d encourage jobseekers to visit Find a Job on the Government website and locate their next local opportunity.”

Until recently the idea that the strength of the jobs market in the Harrogate area would pose problems would have been unthinkable.

But the combination of the pandemic and Brexit have not only distorted the economic picture, but impacted on some people’s attitudes towards employment itself.

Mr Riedel said: “It’s not only that some workers have gone back home after Brexit, some people in Harrogate found different jobs during Covid and lockdown away from hospitality while others made the decision to leave the jobs market altogether and, perhaps, take retirement.”

Yorkshire’s jobs situation as a whole is healthy with the numbers of unemployed falling in the county down by 13,000 in the last quarter.

But the recruitment crisis is a general problem, one unlikely to disappear unless there is a significant change in wage levels in the care sector and hospitality trade - or a dramatic turn takes place in the underlying trends of the UK's economic landscape.

Here in Harrogate, the Jobcentre is renewing its effort to plug the jobs gaps by working closer than ever with its partners and employers.

It has been running workshops in partnership with the National Careers Service to help ‘customers’ improve their interview skills.

And Harrogate Jobcentre is keen to talk to any local businesses to help with their recruitment and support potential new recruits overcome barriers to work.

Mr Riedel said: “We’ve been working with Nidd Hall Hotel to help them recruit new colleagues via Kickstart, as well as general recruitment.

“We’ve also been in contact with the new Tesco coming to Killinghall.

"There’s still plenty of vacancies in Harrogate.”