The U.K. Prepared for a Jobs Crisis, but Got the Unexpected

So the government doubled its army of so-called work coaches, who help people on unemployment benefits find jobs. It hired 13,500 more coaches, a bigger force than was marshaled after the Great Recession in 2008.

In the end, the fallout was much less severe. After the British Treasury extended the furlough program, unemployment peaked at 5.2 percent in December and now sits at 4.7 percent.

“This has been a very quick bounce,” said Dan Taylor, the managing director of Morgan Hunt, a recruitment company that helps fill jobs at about 600 organizations, mostly in the public sector.

Within six months, the company went from “struggling to find jobs for candidates who are registered with us to a situation where we just can’t find the specific skilled and experience staff we need,” Mr. Taylor said. “I’ve never seen anything move as quickly as this before.”

Last month, the Bank of England’s governor, Andrew Bailey, highlighted the shifting problem the country faces. “The challenge of avoiding a steep rise in unemployment has been replaced by that of ensuring a flow of labor into jobs,” he said. “This is a crucial challenge.”

Some industries are trying to buy their way out of this problem. Trucking, warehousing and logistics businesses are offering bonuses of up to 5,000 pounds (nearly $7,000) to people who can start immediately.

When Morgan Hunt was helping a public housing organization hire a senior fire officer, at a salary of £90,000, or about $125,000, two people were ready to accept the job — until a department store chain snapped them up after offering much higher pay, Mr. Taylor said. That created a quandary, because quickly expanding the candidate pool for a highly skilled job is hard when there is a reluctance to hire less experienced staff.