By Daniel Hunter

New figures released by the Totaljobs Barometer show that competition for jobs eased in the first three months of 2013, falling from 20 applications per job to 18 compared to the same period last year.

However, there are concerns that the UK faces a slow recovery in the labour market with a 0.4% decrease in the number of available jobs in the first quarter of 2013, compared to same period last year.

Worryingly, however, London had the biggest drop in job numbers of any region of the UK, falling 9% year-on-year in the first three months to April. As a result, the capital continues to be the most competitive region to find a job — there were on average 26 applications for every vacancy, compared to just 11 in East Anglia and in the South West.

London has been particularly badly affected by falls in the number of available jobs in the media and marketing, which fell in the capital by 8% year-on-year. Also hit were available London-based roles in HR and in financial services, which dropped by 6% and 4% respectively.

However, most concerning was the fall in jobs in catering and hospitality, an industry which acts in London as a bellwether for economic strength. With the number of roles in sector falling by 12% in the capital, competition for jobs in restaurants, bars and hotels has remained startlingly high with an average of 38 applications per job.

“Along with its South Eastern hinterland, which itself reported a 3% fall in jobs this quarter, London has been the engine of growth for years and has avoided the worst of the recent economic difficulties," John Salt, Website Director at totaljobs.com, said.

"So, whilst it is good to see improvements regionally, the fall in jobs in London is a cause for serious concern — and a possible indication of future jobs woes across the UK.

“It is difficult to see where, in the medium term at least, we are going to get the substantial growth needed to provide the fillip the market needs. Profitable companies are wary of investing, whilst the Government is stalling any injection of capital expenditure necessary to boost job numbers.”

Despite an overall fall nationally, competition for vacant jobs in some sectors remains fierce. Clerical jobs continue to attract the most applications; 46 on average. Indeed, it is those sectors in which the fewest formal qualifications are required that receive the greatest number of applications for example in customer services (at 42 applications per jobs) and retail (31 applications per job).

Despite London and certain sectors of the economy seeing a contraction in job numbers, others enjoyed significant growth. Industries to have seen the biggest rises include oil and gas, which recorded a huge 32% increase in available roles, year-on-year. In Scotland, roles in the energy sector rose by 58% compared to the same quarter in 2012, which accounted for much of Scotland’s 8% boost to job numbers.

Not for profits and charities were also amongst those that were looking for new talent, with job numbers rising by 19% nationally, whilst engineering recorded a 3% year-on-year increase in roles. However, reflecting the fact that engineering is a highly skilled industry, competition for each job is fairly low with 3 applications per job.

John Salt continues: “Even amongst stagnation, there are some signs of growth. Scotland in particular has performed pretty well during the financial crisis. Buoyed by a strong energy sector, we’re still seeing jobs created north of the border. Nationally, growth is being recorded in those industries that need specific skills —Telecoms for example. However, the low competition for jobs in these technical sectors is proof of weakness, not strength. Simply, we have too few people with the skills needed in sectors that are growing.

One of the most notable trends shown by totaljobs.com’s data is the change in how public sector organisations advertise jobs. Previously wedded to local media outlets, increasing numbers of public sector organisations have begun posting their vacancies online. As a result, compared with the same period last year, the number of jobs available on the Internet in social services, education and health were up by 59%, 39% and 22% respectively.

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