Business struggles to recruit as unemployment flatlines

    The Jobs Fair at the Angel Centre

    LOW levels of unemployment tend to be a reflection of a booming economy, but for some West Kent employers it means a struggle to fill vacancies.

    This is according to employment specialists at the West Kent Partnership’s Jobs Fair last week [March 30] at The Angel Centre.

    In February, Tonbridge & Malling had 745 people were unemployed. This constitutes just one per cent of the borough’s population. The figure [0.8 per cent] is similar in Tunbridge Wells.

    Within Kent, Thanet has the highest rate with 3.5 per cent. Nationwide, joblessness is at 4.8 per cent – the lowest it has been since 2008.

    Speaking to the Times, Andrea Starbuck, co-founder of Ten2Two, a recruitment firm specialising in professional flexible roles, felt that the bargaining power in the jobs market had flipped since the recession.

    “It has gone from employers being picky to employees being picky. If you aren’t offering flexibility, then you are missing out on the big talent, which there is an incredible amount of in this area. It is really competitive for those recruiting at the moment.

    “I think it requires a big rethink for employers. Always being seen at work, presenteeism, isn’t as important any more. With technology you don’t need to be in the office 24/7.”

    The competition has certainly been felt by Childrensalon, a leading children’s clothing business based in Tunbridge Wells, which employs 288 people.

    “We have struggled to find local talent for our more senior roles, simply because unemployment is so low, so we have had to bring people in from further afield, even London,” said their HR Director, Denise Hamilton.

    Although she added that they ‘are passionate’ about employing local people, so are participating in recruitment events, including their own self-organised one later this month. However, in terms of low-skill, entry-level jobs, things are looking much better, especially compared to the rest of the county.

    “There are many more opportunities in Tonbridge than in East Kent,” said Louise Macfarlane, Employability Coordinator for the Hadlow Group, who own both West Kent and Ashford Colleges.

    “Since all the flats were built, it has brought money with it and the jobs have followed.” She pointed to the arrival of new food and retail sites such as B&Q, McDonald’s and Marks & Spencer as well as a ‘collection of car dealerships’ as an ‘indication’ of Tonbridge’s positive trajectory.

    In February, the Times revealed that Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Bentley and Jaguar plan to join the existing Land Rover site in Vale Rise. Ms Macfarlane also felt more young people were starting up their own businesses.

    “Lots of people are turning to self-employment. My friends have got their own businesses: Cleaning, photography, baking. “They are feeling confident enough to give it a go, which is a good sign.”