Bricks and mortar retailers that have managed to survive, and in some cases thrive, during the pandemic have begun ramping up hiring plans ahead of the reopening date.

According to the latest research, retail vacancies have climbed to within 14 per cent of their pre-Covid levels, after falling as much as 65 per cent last year.

Read more: Kurt Geiger bucks retail trend to open nine new stores – including two in London

DIY and interiors stores were the firms advertising the most non-supermarket retail jobs in February, with Home Bargains, Screwfix, and Toolstation leading the top ten.

Despite the impact of the pandemic on clothing and footwear retailers, Primark – which does not have an eCommerce offering – and Clarks completed the top five for the most vacancies available, suggesting they are expecting a bounceback in demand.

Other lockdown trends can be seen in the retailers that have accelerated their job search, according to recruitment platform Indeed.

Pets At Home, Holland & Barrett, Go Outdoors and McColl’s have all ramped up their recruitment drives, reflecting an increase in demand for pets, health foods, staycation equipment, and convenience stores during the pandemic.

Jack Kennedy, the UK economist at Indeed, said: “The roadmaps out of lockdown gave many retailers all the incentive they needed to ramp up their hiring, and the Prime Minister’s confirmation that non-essential retail can reopen in England next week looks set to trigger another spike in job postings. 

“The news that retail employers are at last hiring at close to their pre-Covid pace will be music to the ears of the thousands of job seekers who have struggled for over a year to find work in hard-hit sectors like retail and hospitality.

“We can expect to see shoppers flocking back to the high street in coming weeks as they experiment with browsing in a physical shop for the first time in months, providing a much-needed boost to the economy. 

“The continued increase in driving roles, however, hints at how the UK’s multiple lockdowns have transformed retail for good.

“Online shopping has boomed during the pandemic, and retailers’ high demand for delivery drivers and loaders suggests many expect the trend to continue even after high street stores reopen.”

The UK labor market is starting to thaw, with recruiters reporting the strongest rebound in permanent hiring for six years in March as businesses prepared for the lifting of lockdown measures. A monthly survey, compiled by IHS Markit for advisory firm KPMG and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, pointed to the first upturn in permanent staff appointments since December, with the highest proportion of recruiters since April 2015 reporting month-on-month growth. Recruiters also reported accelerating growth in temporary billings and the sharpest increase in overall vacancies since 2018. The survey is one of the strongest signals so far that businesses are becoming upbeat enough to take on new staff now that the government has laid out a road map for reopening the economy from lockdown. The latest official data showed employers had put hiring plans on ice over the winter, with the number of vacancies stuck well below pre-pandemic levels, but real-time data published by the Office for National Statistics suggests online job adverts have now risen to levels seen on the eve of the first lockdown. “Even during the lockdown, our labor market was bouncing back,” said Neil Carberry, chief executive of the REC, adding that the first signs of a recovery in London’s job market were “a sign that business confidence is starting to flow back”. A sustained recovery in hiring will be crucial if the UK is to rebound from the pandemic without severe economic “scarring”. So far, the government’s furlough scheme has helped limit job losses, with the unemployment rate edging down to 5 per cent even during the renewed winter lockdown. But with job openings scarce, those who have lost jobs have found it hard to find new ones, and unemployment has rocketed among young people entering the labor market. Recommended Youth unemployment Better jobs for young people: one model for post-pandemic change However, recruiters are no longer seeing rising numbers of people chasing the jobs available. Respondents to the KPMG/REC survey said that, while job losses had driven up candidate numbers, fears over job security had made those who were still in work reluctant to seek new roles. Brexit and new rules governing off-payroll working had also led to a decline in candidate numbers for temporary roles. The KPMG/REC survey showed that the strongest growth in vacancies was for nursing and care jobs, and in the IT sector. However, it also suggested that hospitality businesses were starting to hire again, as well as bringing back workers who had spent much of the last year on furlough. The only sector where recruiters saw weaker demand for both permanent and temporary staff was retail. However, figures published separately by the job site Indeed showed stronger growth in hiring by retailers in the run-up to next week’s reopening of non-essential shops, with vacancies climbing to within 14 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by the start of April. Indeed named the fashion brand Primark, which does not sell online, among the non-food retailers posting the newest jobs since February, alongside the shoe chain Clarks. But it said growth in retail vacancies still lagged behind demand for loading, stocking, and driving roles — suggesting that employers did not expect a reversal of the shift to online sales.