The jury is still out on whether U.S. jobs prospects in 2006 will be better or worse than this year, with a wealth of survey data providing support for both points of view.
Firmly in the optimistic camp is jobs site CareerBuilder.com, whose annual survey tracking projected recruitment and job search activities for the coming year predicts a hiring upturn in the coming year.
More than half (54 per cent) of the 1,000 hiring managers surveyed by CareerBuilder.com said they would be increasing their headcount next year with only one in 10 (9 per cent) predicting a reduction.
And according to a bullish Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder.com: "after creating over two million jobs in 2005, the U.S. is expected to add two million more in 2006, according to economist estimates."
"Despite record energy costs and the destruction caused by hurricanes and other disasters in the U.S., the nation's economy has managed to expand at a healthy pace and is paving the way for a sturdy job market in 2006," he said.
One in five hiring managers told CareerBuilder that they will recruit in bulk, expecting to add more than 50 new employees to their staffs in 2006. One in 10 said they will recruit more than 100 employees and four out of 10 expect to add 10 employees or less.
The majority also said that most of their recruitment activity would take place during the first half of the year.
A more cautious picture emerged from Manpower's Employment Outlook Survey earlier this month, which suggested that almost a quarter (23 per cent) of U.S. employers anticipated an increase in hiring activity for the first quarter of 2006, with one in 10 expecting to decrease staff levels.
The bulk of organisations did not foresee a hiring pick-up, with sixty-one per cent of the employers surveyed forecasting no change in their hiring plans,
In contrast, a pre-Christmas survey of 500 firms by WorldatWork and Aon Consulting suggested that it will be anything but a happy New Year for many employees, with more than a quarter of businesses saying they plan to lay workers off and even more intending to do so without providing any severance pay.
This bleak assessment put the number of firms planning layoffs far higher than the CareerBuilder or Manpower studies, suggesting that almost one in three (28 per cent) of companies are planning layoffs next year, while a further quarter (26 per cent) remain unsure if reductions will be necessary.
But if they can't agree on what the jobs market will look like in 2006, in one area, at least, the pollsters and researchers speak with a single voice.
Retention is going to be the number one people issue for employers in 2006, with anything up to seven out of 10 Americans – many at the critical middle manager level - looking for alternative employment.
According to CareerBuilder's survey, the reasons for this retention crisis are straightforward.
Almost half of Americans are dissatisfied with their current compensation levels considering the effort they put into their jobs, while six out of 10 say their workloads have increased over the last six months, contributing to increased stress levels and dissatisfaction with their work/life balance.
And as the Society for Human Resource Management pointed out earlier this year, efforts to halt the crisis by creatively engaging the people in organisations are unlikely to prove effective when three-quarters of employees are quietly eyeing up opportunities elsewhere.