A new survey from Manpower makes grim reading for people seeking permanent posts in 2012, with the vast majority of employers declaring that they will not hire new staff during the next quarter.

PAYE umbrella contractors may, paradoxically, have less to worry about – UK firms may well start approaching umbrella companies and other sources of skilled freelancers in order to fulfil essential business projects whilst keeping permanent headcounts down. For the rest of the jobs market, the landscape looks decidedly bleak.

An indicator of how things have gone during 2011 can be found in the finance and business services sector. At the start of the year, they were the most optimistic sector of the economy; by year’s end, they have nose-dived to become one of the gloomiest. They are not alone: eight out of ten of the 2,100 employers surveyed said that they would not be recruiting during the first quarter of 2012. Those remaining balance each other out to a zero sum – employers planning to hire equal those planning to shed staff.

The famous north-south divide appears to have been replaced by an east-west alternative, with employers in eastern England appreciably more optimistic about hiring prospects than their counterparts in western England, Wales and Northern Ireland, who appear to be in the depths of pessimism.

Mark Cahill, Manpower’s MD, said  “[W]e see a number of business sectors battening down the hatches, holding on to existing levels of staff and not hiring with any great enthusiasm. Employers have now adopted a wait-and-see approach to hiring; they are cautious about the economy and the fear of a euro-wide contagion is weighing heavily on their minds.”

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