Stop the bad news, we want to get off

Jan 14 2009 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Perhaps our newspapers and websites should start to appear with a black border around them, for there appears to be no let-up in the unremittingly bleak outlook for jobs these days.

Both Barclays Bank and Bank of America have announced swathes of job cuts, with Barclays shedding more than 2,000 worldwide and Bank of America saying it plans to lose 2,000 Merrill Lynch staff in London alone.

The cuts come as research by City recruitment firm Morgan McKinley has suggested hiring has all but ground to a halt within the UK financial services sector.

The number of new vacancies fell by nearly two thirds in December, compared with the same month in 2007, with levels down for their sixth consecutive month, and down by half year-on-year between November and December.

The "unprecedented" year, in effect, meant the "war for talent" was now over said chief executive Robert Thesiger.

"Currently, confidence levels amongst candidates is so low that those individuals who have some job security and the few who are in the running to receive a bonus in the first quarter of 2009 are choosing to stay where they are rather than enter into what is an extremely difficult job market," he added.

In the wider British economy DVD and music retailer Zavvi, which is already in the hands of administrators, and car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover both announced hundreds of losses, with Jaguar even planning to lose 300 managers.

Their cuts follow deep job losses already announced by the likes of Marks & Spencer and logistics firm Wincanton, among others.

In fact, even local councils formerly thought of as one of the last safe havens when it comes to employment now appear to be taking the axe to their workforce.

A report in The Times newspaper has suggested 40 councils are planning a total of 7,000 redundancies.

The British government has unveiled a package of measures including a plan to guarantee up to 20bn of loans for small and medium-sized firms and incentives for firms that take on unemployed workers, yet for most workers fear remains the primary emotion.

A poll by consultancy ETS has suggested that nearly four out of 10 UK workers now fear they may lose their jobs, up a tenth on a similar survey carried out in the last quarter of last year.

And a survey of 100 firms by graduate pollster High Fliers has found a 17 per cent decline in the number of graduate jobs on offer, rising to a 47 per cent decline in the financial services sector.

It's a similar story in the U.S, with latest research from the Society for Human Resource Management suggesting there is no end in sight to the dismal jobs' market.

Its latest report found dramatic drops in hiring expectations compared with a year ago, with expectations now at the lowest for four years.

The poll of more than 500 manufacturing and 500 service-sector organisations found rising numbers cutting their payroll and headcounts, a finding consistent with U.S Bureau of Labor and Statistics figures suggesting the number of long-term unemployed in November 2008 was at 2.2 million, up 822,000 on the same point in 2007.

"January hiring expectations will continue the downward slide we have seen over many months," said Jennifer Schramm, SHRM's manager of workplace trends and forecasting.

A UK survey of the hard-pressed automotive industry by consultancy KPMG, meanwhile, has predicted that more companies will go bust and that "some very large auto companies are close to insolvency".

One in four executives in the industry believed the profitability of their businesses would decrease between now and 2013, it added.

And a survey by the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development earlier this month predicted that this year will be the worst for jobs in two decades, with 600,000 people being thrown out of work, while the British Chambers of Commerce has said the last three months of 2008 saw the biggest contraction in manufacturing and service industries for nearly two decades.

So, is there any good news, anywhere? If you ignore its prediction that the bottom will continue to fall out of the merger and acquisition market for most of this year, KPMG has forecast that this market will slowly recover by the end of the year as the cash situation for many investors improves.

And, according to consultancy Watson Wyatt, fund managers are now surprisingly optimistic for 2009, predicting that markets in most regions of the world will begin to recover this year.

Crucially, they forecast a recovery in the U.S housing market by the third quarter of this year, with other markets also starting to recover at around this time.

Finally, research by UK training body Roffey Park has also found more than a third of line managers claiming that the economic slump has not affected their organisations.

Its poll of 858 was carried out in the autumn, but repeated on a smaller sample in November and December, and found 36 per cent suggesting the declining economic environment had had "no organisational impact".

However, it did concede that recruitment, retention and skills shortages had gone on the back burner, with the main focus now simply on dealing with the economic firestorm.