Today the Evening Telegraph launches a special series of reports looking at unemployment and the state of the jobs market.
Features editor Joni Ager finds out more about the issues facing both businesses and jobseekers.
Levels of unemployment in Northamptonshire have doubled in the past five years with more than 15,000 people now claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance.
One third of those people have been looking for a job for more than six months.
The Evening Telegraph can reveal unemployment has increased by 127 per cent in Wellingborough compared with five years ago, 124 per cent in Kettering, 108 per cent in Corby and by 95 per cent in East Northamptonshire.
The current unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent in Northamptonshire is still lower than the rate for the East Midlands and the national average, and has not reached the high of 4.2 per cent seen in spring 2009 at the height of the recession.
Rob Cooper, senior operations manager for Jobcentre Plus for Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, says the jobs market is in a difficult period but points out that nearly 50 per cent of people in Northamptonshire are getting a job within three months.
He said: “The good point is people are still getting a job. The other side is that the people who are coming in to the Jobcentre are staying on the register a little bit longer because there are less vacancies out there.
“There will be more people applying for jobs. It is a competitive market and you do have to work hard to find a job.
“Having said that, there are over 3,000 vacancies on the Jobcentre Plus website for Northamptonshire, and that does not represent all vacancies. About a third of vacancies are available through Jobcentre Plus but companies are tending to use their own websites and the internet has changed things a lot.
“The vacancies are there but you have to put yourself forward as the best applicant. That means matching your skills to the job specification but also doing those things that we often take for granted, like dressing appropriately for the interview and showing a good work ethic.
“You have to stand out from the other applicants.”
A number of big companies in Northamptonshire have announced job losses in recent months.
Around 440 permanent workers and 300 agency staff are set to lose their jobs when the Argos logistics site run by Wincanton moves from Corby to Leicestershire in October.
Tata Steel also announced it is to axe 110 jobs at its Corby plant and a further 160 are at risk at the town’s Eddie Stobart depot.
The county’s logistics sector has been hard hit by the economic downturn, but Mr Cooper says the impact is being felt across all industries.
He said: “In Northamptonshire we have seen a bit of a decline in logistics because if there is not the demand for products there is not a need for the transport and other jobs.
“We are seeing more vacancies in the care sector because that industry has to go on whatever the economy and we are still seeing some in catering and hospitality.
“The top three sectors for unfilled vacancies in Northamptonshire are finance and business, health and social work, and wholesale retail distribution.”
Young people are finding it the hardest to find work. In Northamptonshire, 7.9 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds are unemployed, compared with 3.5 per cent for 25 to 49-year-olds and two per cent for those aged 50 to 65.
Corby has the highest proportion of 18 to 24-year-olds out of work at 12.5 per cent. In Wellingborough 10.5 per cent of young people are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, 9.9 per cent in Kettering and 8.2 per cent in East Northamptonshire.
Mr Cooper said: “It may be that these are the sort of people who don’t have experience or they have gone into first-line jobs and these are quite often where you get redundancies.
“If retail is suffering for example, this is one of the sectors where you tend to see younger people working.”
There are a number of new schemes to tackle the problem of youth unemployment.
Jobcentre Plus is now running work academies, which offers training and work experience for people who are unemployed, and the Government has recently introduced Youth Contracts, a subsidy scheme where businesses can claim incentive payments for recruit 18 to 24-year-olds.
Paul Griffiths, chief executive of Northamptonshire Chamber, said: “There is a big concern about young people becoming the lost generation but the Youth Contracts could address that if they are administered in a good way and taken up by businesses.
“Some of the issue is that the Government has taken away the default retirement age and you cannot force people out of work when they reach a certain age. In these economic times people are staying in work and so you lose those opportunities for youngsters coming in at the other end.”
Mr Griffiths says unemployment levels are disappointing but says Northamptonshire is bucking the trend.
He said: “Levels are still good in comparison with the East Midlands and even better compared with England as a whole.
“For the last four quarters we have seriously been bucking the national trend – order books are up and people are looking to retain or increase their workforce which is vastly different to the national picture.
“It is down to the diverse nature of the businesses we have in the county, We are not reliant on one thing. It is a ‘can do, will do’ attitude.
“It is not all doom and gloom. It is very unfortunate for those people who are out of work and are struggling to get back in, but it is not all doom and gloom with, for example, the Enterprise Zone being announced for Northampton.
“Most of the businesses I speak to are as busy as they have ever been, but now they are having to work three or four times as hard to win business.
“We have got to prove that Northamptonshire is open for business and the chamber itself has launched a campaign nationally in which we are lobbying the Government very hard to create an environment where the private sector can go out and generate wealth and jobs and really pull us away from recession.”
‘IT IS VERY HARD TO STAY POSITIVE’
When Gina Fry was made redundant on Christmas Eve, she knew how difficult it would be to find a job.
She had only been working as a store supervisor for seven months and had a long spell of unemployment before that.
Gina, 31, of Briar Road, Kettering, who was working at Discount UK in Northfield Avenue, said: “They laid off eight people because they needed to lose 150 hours a week from the wage bill.
“They told us the day before but I didn’t think I would go.”
Gina was a duty manager at Gala Bingo for 11 years when she was first made redundant.
She was diagnosed with swine flu in late 2009 and was in a coma for a month in intensive care at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester.
But once she had recovered and was ready to return to work, finding a job proved almost impossible.
She said: “After I had recovered, it took me eight to nine months to get a job. There were a lot of people who didn’t even bother to reply to your application.
“I must have applied for hundreds and hundreds of jobs in that time and I had five interviews. The Jobcentre thought that was a lot.
Before I got the job at Discount UK I got a letter back from one company saying thanks for my interest but out of the 173 applicants they interviewed seven.”
Finding herself unemployed again in December was devastating, she says.
“I’ve applied for 30 to 40 jobs since then and I’ve had one reply.
“I’m going for retail jobs, bar work, cleaning jobs, admin – anything really.
“It’s hard to survive on what the Government gives you, I get £67.50 a week.
“It is very hard to stay positive. I can’t help but think ‘What’s the point? No-one is going to want to employ me?’.”