THE ghost of Christmas yet to come lurks ominously over the Scottish employment market.
For while there are reasons to be positive about the latest official data, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) yesterday and covering the three months to the end of October, it is the unknown of what lies in store over the next few weeks that will be causing concern to those charged with steering the economy.
And that is chiefly because of the rapidly-evolving situation with regard to the Omicron variant, which is already making its presence felt in key sectors of the economy.
Official advice in Scotland for people to think twice about attending Christmas parties with colleagues has sparked a wave of cancellations in the hospitality industry, which was already struggling to get back on its feet following long periods of lockdown since the pandemic took hold in March last year.
In the three months to November, there were 176,000 advertisements for jobs across Scotland, and openings have continued to rise, albeit at a slower pace than earlier in the year.
It still means there were around 26,000 more jobs going in Scotland than there were before the pandemic struck.
However, with restrictions on the way and Christmas parties being cancelled right, left and centre, Omicron is exerting a heavy toll on key industries which traditionally staff up at this time of year.
Catering, hospitality and retail are traditionally the key drivers of the jobs market at this time of year, and they have been fuelling the rise in part-time workers that was so evident in the labour market figures for the three months to the end of October.
Indeed, the growth of
part-time work has been critical in helping ensure levels of employment have held up as well as they have since the furlough scheme came to a close at the end of September.
The unemployment rate in Scotland was 4.1 per cent for the period, which compares favourably with 4.3% over the preceding quarter, and was slightly lower than the 4.2% for the UK as a whole.
But current hiring data is more indicative of the impact Omicron is having on the labour market, and it shows that the number of jobs becoming available in the catering and hospitality and retail sectors has continued to tumble in December. This is particularly worrying because this is traditionally a time when employment rises in those
sectors because of seasonal demand.
Hiring demand in catering and hospitality was down by 19% in the first 14 days of December compared with the previous two weeks, while in retail the decline was 23% when the same comparisons are used.
With the Omicron crisis forecast to last in Scotland until March, the new Covid variant will not only be felt over Christmas, but well into the new year.
Gavin Mochan is commercial director of s1jobs