By Maximilian Clarke

Unemployment in the UK jumped by a further 118,000 to reach its highest point since 1995, the Office for National Statistics this morning confirmed. And while both the economy and the private sector are still in growth, job creation is being far outstripped by the rate of losses to the public sector.

Following is an overview of comments and reactions from business leaders and entrepreneurs, as well as economists and union representatives...

Kevin Green, Chief Executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), observes that although jobs are being shed, businesses are still hungry to expand and that opportunities for skilled workers remain.

“The UK jobs market is struggling to cope with austerity measures but will bounce back in the medium term. Whilst the public sector has lost 67, 000 jobs in the last quarter, the private sector has continued to create new jobs, although not in sufficient numbers at present to compensate.

“However, we are continuing to see encouraging signs in terms of employers’ future hiring intentions and sectors such as IT, engineering and office professionals are already showing strong demand. Across all sectors, recruitment agencies fill on average 40,000 permanent jobs each month which shows that opportunities do exist.

“Looking ahead, things will get worse before they get better but we expect unemployment figures to stabilise in the second part of the year.”

Richard Driver, analyst for Caxton FX notes that if jobs growth fails to pick up, the UK may re-enter recession which would undermine the cuts enacted by the Coalition:

"This morning’s UK employment figures are mixed. While, there were fewer jobless claimants than expected, the unemployment rate has nonetheless climbed up to 8.4%,"

“It goes without saying that with UK unemployment at its highest since 1995, the case for further Bank of England quantitative easing next month is stronger than ever, particularly in light of Tuesday’s drop in UK inflation data.

“The slowdown in benefits claimants really is scant consolation as the UK economy really needs to pick up if it is to avoid a recession. If a domestic recession does materialise, then the UK can forget about its AAA credit rating, which in turn could see us sucked into the crisis we are seeing on the continent.”

Liz Field, CEO of the Financial Skills Partnership (FSP), believes it is particularly alarming that the financial and accountancy market has been in negative territory for two consecutive months;

“I am afraid these are still tough times for job seekers in this sector, in particular for young people starting out in their careers. FSP continues to spearhead recruitment into the financial sector through its state-of-the-art online portal, Directions, which offers young people easy access to detailed, accurate and independent information on over 70 careers in the sector.

“Young people may apply for work placements, apprenticeships and graduate traineeships online. This way, they can start building relationships with employers early, learn what kinds of jobs are available and what skills and behaviours are required in the sector. Though it cannot solve the national unemployment problem, through Directions, FSP is helping to ensure the financial sector will have the skilled workforce it needs to continue to thrive in the future.”

Carmen Watson, Managing Director of Pertemps Recruitment Partnership, observes the disproportionate losses from the retail sector, adding that employers should consider flexible working solutions"

“Although there has been a boom in temporary employment over Christmas, this is the time when the greatest challenge will be presented to the job market as many industries enter a quieter period. Retail in particular has taken a battering at the start of the year with the failure of high street stores bringing about job losses.

“The key step to reviving the employment picture is focussing on enhancing skills and considering roles in industries where there is still a call for talented, hard working people. This will require a greater deal of flexibility on the part of applicants and an amenable, yet determined attitude. Jobs are still out there but in many situations they may be in areas you might not have thought of.”

Scott Liversidge, Managing Partner at Flame Health, the specialist healthcare recruitment consultancy, comments that there is still a huge demand from business for skilled labour:

“It is disappointing that the number of those unemployed has risen to 2.68million, but it is worth baring in mind that the Christmas period is usually a time of change and transition for the jobs market. However, these statistics do not echo the situation we are seeing in our specialist sector, healthcare.

"There is still a huge demand and indeed requirement for more healthcare professionals in both the private and public sectors. It would seem that more of Britain’s youth and those who are unemployed, should consider gaining the skills and training necessary to work in the healthcare sector, as this appears to be where there is one of the biggest skills gaps in the UK.”

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