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Manpower ’08 Jobs Forecast Neither Bright Nor Bleak

It appears hiring activity will remain stable through the first quarter of 2008 despite concerns of an economic slowdown, according to the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey.

“The employment panorama is easy-does-it,” says Melanie Holmes, vice president of workforce solutions at the Milwaukee-based staffing giant. The forecast was issued Tuesday, December 11. “The numbers are relatively unchanged from quarter to quarter.”

Manpower surveyed 14,000 U.S. employers for the study. Sixty percent of the respondents report no changes in their hiring pace going into 2008, while 22 percent anticipate a surge in hiring activity. Twelve percent expect a reduction in staff levels.

Manpower’s forecast for the first quarter of 2007 painted a similar picture, with 60 percent reporting no changes in hiring plans, 23 percent anticipating increases and 11 percent projecting a decrease.

Holmes isn’t surprised hiring remains relatively unchanged in the face of record-high petroleum prices, a slow housing market and a stagnating economy.

“It’s what we have been seeing all year long,” she notes.

Holmes adds that Manpower’s outlook is supported by the Department of Labor’s jobs report released Friday, December 7. That data reveals that 94,000 jobs were added during November, beating expectations by 24,000.

According to the Manpower survey, hiring expectations remain strongest in durable goods, manufacturing and wholesale/retail. By contrast, the hiring outlook is less stable in construction.

Those findings make sense, says Ken Jacobs, chair of the Labor Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Manufacturing is strong because a weak U.S. dollar makes production cheaper. Meanwhile, anything related to construction and real estate will be choppy because of malaise in the housing market, Jacobs explains.

Employers in the West have the most positive hiring outlook, according to the Manpower survey. For a third consecutive quarter, companies in the Northeast were the least optimistic.

Shortages in skilled talent will continue to be a source of anxiety for companies, Holmes notes.

“More than being concerned about the country’s impending demographic changes, employers are being confronted with a significant gap in skills and education,” she says.

Employers in information technology, the sciences and engineering are among those feeling the deficiencies in the talent market, according Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of Yoh, a talent and outsourcing services firm. He says Yoh sees a stable hiring outlook for the first quarter of 2008 as well.

“Certain skilled professionals simply don’t exist in the numbers that are needed,” Lanzalotto says. “Good luck if you are an SAP-type company trying to fill spots, because you’ll inevitably come up short.”

He advises employers to proactively manage their talent pipeline.

“It is not a cure, but sound planning can facilitate talent management,” Lanzalotto says. “Don’t try to react on a dime because it will be more expensive and it will be more difficult to meet your goals.”

Companies are generally upbeat about hiring for the beginning of 2008, but there is a different attitude permeating the workforce, according to the Hudson Employment Index.

The index—which offers insight into employee perceptions of hiring intentions, career opportunities, retention and job satisfaction—came in at a record low in November, meaning that many employees are concerned about the job market, according to Robert Morgan, co-president of recruitment and talent management at the New York-based HR consultancy.

The findings were derived from a national telephone survey of almost 9,100 workers last month. According to Morgan, 19 percent of respondents worry about job security and 17 percent expect their employer will cut staff.

“There is no doubt that jobs are being created, but workers have a different feeling than what is really happening.”

Morgan says the differences in perceptions when it comes to the job market are likely embedded in a workforce concerned about high gas prices, a global economy and national security issues.

“They are exposed to that information on a daily basis in the press,” he notes. “It is enough to raise one’s concern.”

Fears about job security will likely result in higher retention rates, as workers become reluctant to leave an existing employer. Although keeping people on the job sounds good, retaining workers because of fear and stress is often counterproductive, Morgan explains.

“You don’t want workers who are worried about their jobs,” he notes. “This can lead to being unproductive and apathetic.”

Manpower’s forecast also looks globally, taking in 26 foreign countries and territories.

Holmes says Peru, Singapore, India, Argentina, Japan and Norway ranked at the top of the list with strong hiring plans during the first quarter of 2008. Ireland ranked last.

Hiring in the Asia-Pacific region is positive, according to the report. However, companies in New Zealand, Taiwan, Australia and China indicate a slower pace compared with the hiring projections they made at this time in 2007.

Holmes isn’t worried about a collapse in the job market.

“We are going through a very steady period of hiring right now.”

Gina Ruiz