Workers thinking of changing jobs would be well advised to do so now, as the latest snapshot of the UK recruitment market predicts tougher times ahead.
The quarterly Labour Market Outlook by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has found that while the immediate jobs outlook remains bright, almost half of UK employers expect to be employing fewer people this time next year.
The finding is just the latest in a raft of economic forecasts predicting tougher times ahead.
Last week, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation warned that April had been one of the worst months for British Industry in recent years, with the manufacturing sector struggling with largest drop in staffing levels for two years.
And earlier in May, Dutch bank ABN Amro warned that half a million jobs will be lost in over the next three years as Britain is squeezed by a combination of crumbing consumer spending, falling house prices and excessive household debt.
The CIPD's survey has found that UK employers as a whole have become much more pessimistic about employment prospects.
The negative balance of employers expecting to employ more staff by spring 2006 over those expecting to employ fewer (-23 per cent), is at odds with all four previous CIPD quarterly surveys, which have all shown a positive balance of employers expecting to employ more staff, it added.
The reversal is particularly marked in the public sector – a sector where recruitment has been relatively buoyant in recent years.
CIPD chief economist John Philpott said: "Given the recent spate of job cut announcements and the pre-election emphasis on cutting public sector waste, it is perhaps not surprising that recruitment confidence has dropped.
"But with the labour-intensive, consumer services sector experiencing tougher times, and with public sector employers looking to make efficiency savings, the survey might be signalling more than an end of the jobs boom," he added.
The survey has also revealed that short-term jobs market pressures remain, with UK organisations actively recruiting from all corners of the globe to fill skills shortages.
More than a quarter of UK organisations planned to recruit migrant workers, with one in three public sector organisations intending to do so.
UK organisations were recruiting migrant workers for their skills and experience and not for cost-cutting reasons, the CIPD added.
Employers appeared particularly keen to recruit from the new European Union accession countries, with around one in five UK organisations planning to do so.
As many as 14 per cent of employers planned to recruit from outside the EU and Commonwealth.
Philpott said: "The vast majority of UK organisations are recruiting migrant workers to obtain skills and experience in short supply, not to get staff on the cheap.
"Migration is helping to prevent wage inflation – as our survey finds most employers are expecting pay pressures to remain subdued. It is not however generally being used to cut pay rates."
The issue is particularly topical ahead of tomorrow's [Tuesday's] Queen's Speech, in which the Government is expected to include an Immigration and Asylum Bill.