Survey Hints at Drop in Hiring

By Staff Report

Mar. 11, 2008

Manpower’s latest quarterly employment outlook survey showed its weakest hiring projections in four years.

The report, released Tuesday, March 11, revealed 9 percent of the 14,000 U.S. companies responding to the survey expect reductions in staff levels between April and June, according to Melanie Holmes, vice president of corporate affairs for the Milwaukee-based staffing giant. A majority of respondents—60 percent—expect no change in their workforce levels, and 26 percent plan to increase hiring.

By comparison, during the first quarter of 2004, 13 percent of employers anticipated cuts in staffing, while 61 percent thought headcount would remain the same and 20 percent projected increases.

Manpower’s outlook at the same time last year was somewhat stronger, with 7 percent of respondents anticipating staffing cuts.

Despite the tepid outlook, Holmes says this shouldn’t be troubling for the labor market.

“We are not seeing any signs of mass panic out there,” she notes. “Companies seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach.”

Holmes says this cycle is different from previous recessionary periods because it is less volatile. The market is not experiencing the historic dips that normally precede an economic downturn.

Nevertheless, employers are hesitant to move aggressively with hiring plans, she notes.

Evidence that the labor sector is losing steam seems to be mounting. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported two straight months of negative job growth. According to its most recent report, 63,000 jobs were shed from the economy in February. That is on top of the 22,000 that were lost in January.

These figures are of concern, says Sylvia Allegretto, an economist at the University of California-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. Given its population and economy, the U.S. should be adding 150,000 jobs a month. Jobs in manufacturing, retail trade and construction are the weakest, according to the BLS reports.

This pattern is similar to the results in Manpower’s 2008 second-quarter job forecast, where companies in mining, manufacturing and construction reported decreases in hiring confidence. By contrast, companies in transportation and public utilities are expecting increased staffing levels, albeit slight ones, according to Holmes.

Employers in the West and Midwest are projecting the weakest hiring outlook in the coming months, while companies in the Northeast and South are expecting relatively stable hiring plans.

Manpower’s report also examines the global job outlook—shedding light on hiring activity in 32 countries and territories. The second-quarter outlook is a mix globally, Holmes explains.

Employers in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore are reporting the most optimistic projections. By contrast, companies in Spain and Italy indicated the weakest hiring outlook in the second quarter.

China’s year-over-year hiring projections are weaker across every industry, casting a cloud of uncertainty over the coming year.

—Gina Ruiz

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