EMPLOYMENT rates in Dorset are closing in on pre-pandemic levels, the latest figures show.

However, the number of job vacancies across the UK are hitting a record high with employers fearing staff shortages could stall future growth following the lifting of lockdown restrictions.

Office for National Statistics data shows an estimated 148,398 people in Dorset were on company payrolls in July – 561 more than in June.

The increase moves the figure closer to the 149,976 recorded in February last year – the month before the UK was plunged into its first Covid-19 lockdown.

The data also showed the median monthly salary for pay-rolled workers in the conurbation rose from £1,675 in February last year to £1,778 in July this year – a £103 increase.

Across the UK, the number of payrolled workers increased by 182,000 between June and July to 28.9 million – but this was still 201,000 fewer than in February last year.

The ONS cautioned the payroll figures, which do not include the self-employed, are early estimates which can be revised in future months.

The Confederation of British Industry said they showed signs of recovery but added increased demand for workers was creating a new problem for companies.

The number of vacancies across the UK reached almost one million in the three months to the end of July – the highest estimated quarterly figure since records began in 2001.

Arts, leisure and food service firms particularly contributed to the surge in job openings.

CBI's head of employment, Jennifer Beckwith, said: "With employment up and unemployment down, the labour market is showing further signs of recovery.

“Yet, with vacancies at a record high, employers are concerned that staff shortages are stalling their ability to grow and support the country’s wider economic recovery."

She said the government should help by funding training for in-demand qualifications and removing barriers which stop firms being able to recruit from abroad.

Separate figures published by the ONS also show in the BCP Council area, there was a fall in the number of people claiming unemployment benefits last month.

Around 12,425 people were on out-of-work benefits as of mid-July, down 330 from 12,755 in mid-June.

It meant 5.1 per cent of the area's working population sought support in July, compared to 5.3 per cent a month earlier.

The figures include those aged 16 to 64 on Jobseeker’s Allowance and some Universal Credit claimants, who are unemployed and seeking work or employed but with low earnings.