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Employment Expectations, Confidence Rising For 2012

January 1st, 2012

With 2012 mere hours old, there’s a budding sense of optimism about the coming year.

Consumer confidence is at the highest level in months. There’s a cautious willingness among employers to add staff. And the economy added jobs in every one of the 12 months through the end of November. (December 2011 numbers aren’t out yet, but they are expected to also be positive.)

CareerBuilder says one-in-four employers plans to add permanent staff this year, about the same number the job board reported for 2011. But another 11% are unsure what they’ll be doing during the year, an indication that can be read to mean that if the economy improves — as the rising consumer confidence measures suggest the country expects — then even more hiring could be coming.

Last year, hesitant employers turned to temporary workers and staffing agencies for help, before adding permanent workers. In it’s December report, the American Staffing Association reported that its staffing index has been climbing, slowly, but steadily, since February 2011. The index is now pretty much where it was at the end of last year.

That’s much the same economic picture that measures from The Conference Board and the Bureau of Labor Statistics show. At the beginning of last year, the Consumer Confidence Index was rising. It would reach a high of 72 in February, before plunging by 30 points during the year as confidence in the recovery waned.

Now, the Index has climbed almost 25 points since October. The Conference Board’s employment trends index is also on the rise, up 6.4% in November compared to the year before.

Since June, the number of new jobs being created each month has been above 100,000. It’s still a slow growth rate, but it’s a significant improvement over 2010 when six out of the 12 months showed job cuts.

“We continue to hear people say that the U.S. recovery is fragile, and that’s the wrong word,” says Michael Gapen, an economist with Barclays Capital. “It’s durable. It’s just not robust. It’s a moderate expansion.”

That’s one reason companies have been hesitant to add permanent staff. It’s also likely that employers recall that after a strong start to 2011, the recovery stalled as the financial markets began recognizing the seriousness of the European debt crises. In the first four months of 2011, some 714,000  jobs were created. Less than half that were created in the next four months.

With all that baggage causing employers to be especially cautious about hiring, Monster says temp hiring is likely to be strong well into 2012. Indeed Manpower, one of the largest staffing and temp agencies in the world, says employment in the first quarter of this year will be the most positive since 2008.

CareerBuilder’s CEO Matt Ferguson predicts a somewhat brighter employment picture for 2012 than the numbers imply.

“Historically, our surveys have shown that employers are more conservative in their predictions than actual hiring,” says Ferguson. “Barring any major economic upsets, we expect 2012 to bring a better hiring picture than 2011, especially in the second half of the year.”

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