Slowdown leads to hiring freeze, not redundancies

2008

Employers are holding off slashing headcounts in the wake of the global slowdown – at least for now – with managers in Asia Pacific reporting a desperate shortage of raw talent.

Rather than mass redundancies, a global poll by recruitment firm Manpower suggests that what we have been seeing instead is vacant positions being left unfilled.

Many firms in countries such as the U.S, Spain, Italy, Norway and Ireland have either implemented a full freeze on hiring or sharply slowed down the numbers they take on, the research found.

But it's a completely different picture across the globe in Asia Pacific, with firms in Singapore, Australia, India and Hong Kong – indeed China as a whole – reporting a continuing battle for talent and strong hiring intentions.

The poll has set a more positive tone compared with recent predictions by British HR body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, which has forecast a sharp rise in the number of employers expecting to make staff redundant.

And just yesterday a poll by business school Pentacle raised fears that many managers were unprepared to manage the consequences of any downturn, such as the probable need to slash staff numbers.

The Manpower poll of 55,000 employers in 32 countries found employers in Singapore, India, Peru, Romania, Costa Rica, Argentina, Poland, Hong Kong, Australia, Greece and South Africa were all the most upbeat about their hiring plans for the next three months, with Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia the most optimistic since polling began there.

By comparison, employers in Spain – where the poll was conducted before this week's victory by the country's Socialist party – and Italy reported the weakest job prospects in the next three months.

"There has been a decided shift in employer sentiment in this quarter's survey, with employers in many countries, including the U.S, pulling back their hiring plans in a bigger way than we have seen in several years," explained Jeffrey A. Joerres, chairman and chief executive of Manpower Inc.

"The important change we are seeing is not about reductions in workforces, like we would typically expect in a recessionary period, but rather an increase in the percentages of employers who are planning to put a hold on hiring and forge ahead with the people they already have.

"This is definitely a 'wait and see' approach as they evaluate where their economies are headed, rather than a panic attack at this point," he added.

Within Europe, the Middle East and Africa employers in Romania, Poland, Greece, South Africa and Norway were most optimistic about adding to their workforces, the poll found.

In contrast, hiring optimism among Irish and Spanish employers fell considerably from a year ago, with the outlook in Spain the weakest in the region, it added.

"The positive hiring prospects reported in the newly surveyed countries of Romania, Poland and Greece reflect employer demand for talent in markets where foreign direct investment and labour migration are increasing the competition for available talent," said Joerres.

In Asia Pacific, the strongest employer hiring plans were reported in India and Singapore, while employers in China reported the weakest hiring outlook in the region for the third consecutive quarter, said Manpower.

But somewhat confusingly, Hong Kong was among the areas where employers were the most optimistic about their hiring plans than at any time since 2003, along with Singapore and Australia.

"Year-over-year hiring expectations are weaker across every industry sector surveyed in China, signalling a slowdown for the quarter ahead. However, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong are expecting improved hiring prospects," said Joerres.

Across the Americas, employers in Peru, Costa Rica and Argentina were the most optimistic, with those in Canada the least and employers in Mexico reporting steady optimism.

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