January US Perm Hires Continue Uptrend
By Claudia Hirsch
NEW YORK, Feb. 1 (MNI) – Permanent hiring activity ticked higher in the U.S. at the start of the year as employer confidence improved, according to staffing executives.
Government statistics for January may show a rollback of some of the 42,000 couriers hired in the U.S. in December, but recruiters interviewed said a range of other occupations and professions are seeing
fresh job opportunities. Employers are hiring permanent personnel right out of the gate this year, tabling a little of the caution that has characterized a painfully slow jobs recovery.
They’re also welcoming more of their temporary staff to permanent employee status. There’s no broad-based pressure as yet for higher wages, though certain candidates with specific skill sets can expect better pay than a year ago, according to personnel specialists.
Michael Doyle, vice president and general manager of staffing giant Manpower’s Southeast division, said he’s seen unexpected firming in permanent placements and temp-to-perm conversions in January.
“Clients typically start a little bit slower on permanent hiring in the first quarter, but there’s been a positive uptick in January,” said Doyle, who oversees about 70 U.S. offices in Washington, Virginia, West Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and Florida, as well as others across Canada.
“They seem to be a little bit more confident. It’s an interesting start to the year.”
Doyle said the usual budget caution that falls over December and January didn’t materialize, and both full-time conversions and permanent hires “have been a little bit out of character for this time of year.”
In demand are human resources professionals, skilled manufacturing and logistics laborers with computer savvy, call center personnel, information technology professionals, and finance personnel, from analysts to data entry, he said.
On the contingent-labor side, which is the bigger part of Doyle’s business, demand was steady in January year-on-year. He said his overall business growth in 2012 may be tempered compared to 2011.
Pay, Doyle said, isn’t seeing any meaningful upward pressure yet, except in “one-off” instances.
Andrea Jennings, chief executive of the Lucas Group, an Atlanta-based executive search firm with 15 U.S. offices, said a lull in October and November interview numbers turned around in December, producing a flurry of offers and start dates in January that beat company forecasts.
“Employers are optimistic right now because the last couple of economic reports have been strong and the unemployment rate has dropped,” Jennings said. She said business inquiries and website leads are well up year-on-year in January.
Importantly, employers are now open to investing in professional staff that may not have precise, on-point experience. During the downturn, hires were limited to those requiring no ramp-up time.
“We’re having record conference attendance for our military transition group,” she said. “Employers are willing to hire basically entry-level people that are trained in leadership and teach them their business.”
Like Manpower’s Doyle, Jennings said human resources hiring is heating up. Also on the move is marketing, another area like HR that got slashed during the recession. She said she’s filling orders for brand managers, directors of marketing strategy and directions of web development.
“We’re seeing good activity in finance strategy, the future-facing positions in accounting and finance,” Jennings said, and added that these placements were not under discussion when the economy was on the skids. “It’s very promising.”
IT placements are healthy, and talent shortages have started to crop up in cloud computing and in professional consulting, which mixes technology know-how with a business background, she said. Real estate and construction hiring, however, remains drowsy.
Jennings said that pay still hews to established ranges, but a few moderate-sized signing bonuses emerged in January. Relocation packages are out there, but aren’t especially generous, and guaranteed property sales have not yet returned.
She anticipates Lucas Group’s revenue growth this year to stick to the same hearty pace as last year. She said employers aren’t yet talking about Europe’s economic woes as a possible business impediment.
A personnel professional who handles placements in 35 states said his January business is about even with December but ahead of January, 2011, particularly on the permanent-placement front.
“Employers are bringing sales and marketing people back on permanently, and they’d definitely cut back on that,” said Steve Pearson, chief operating officer of Mt. Laurel, NJ-based Contemporary Staffing Solutions, with eight East Coast offices. “2011 was wonderful for that, and 2012 is looking great. We see a significant uptrend in January vs. a year ago.”
The best sales and marketing candidates are now seeing multiple job offers, he said.
“We had four or five deals that didn’t close this month because they declined the offer for another,” Pearson said. “That didn’t happen last year.”
He said firms are also now on-boarding to permanent status some of their contingent workers in administrative and accounting positions.
Contract IT placements were a source of particular strength for CSS throughout 2011. Healthcare, insurance, retail banking and mortgage companies were also active on the temp side, he said.
“Clients are saying it’s going to be a good year,” Pearson said. “All the indicators in January are positive, including the stock market. There isn’t as much worry as there was in ’10 and ’09. But we’ve budgeted for less (revenue) growth this year than the 38% we had last year.”
On pay, Pearson said he sees no signs of inflation. With the exception of a few sales and IT placements, there have been no wage increases.
A Houston-based recruiter in IT and oil-and-gas supply chain arenas said clients are “opening up their purses,” especially for mobile-data applications and network security personnel.
“The big oil companies all had money stashed away, and they have restarted a lot of projects or started new ones. We’ve been getting very good orders in January,” said Juuhi Ahuja, president and chief executive
of Wise Men Consulting, with offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and India. She places workers in 29 U.S. states.
Ahuja’s new orders are almost entirely for contract workers, and she doesn’t actively pursue permanent placements. But those did come in last year unsolicited, and since last July, temp-to-perm conversions have been on the rise.
“My clients have been making the commitment and hiring my contractors after six months or a year,” she said.
Demand for IT contractors continues among Ahuja’s retail, energy, oil and gas, logistics and hospitality clients, and recently also among healthcare firms. She’s added two new services, database management and geographic information systems, to her portfolio of offerings and has seen good demand from employers that weren’t outsourcing these functions during the recession. She’s forecasting 15% revenue growth for Wise Men this year.
Ahuja said pay is up about 8% year-on-year. Some candidates with harder-to-find skills like enterprise resource planning and iPhone mobility applications can fetch even more.
A Southern California franchisee of Oklahoma City-based Express Employment Professionals said employers in his economically hard-hit area of the state are bringing back laid-off workers, upping their temp usage and converting more contingent workers to permanent employees.
“Most of our distribution center clients are seeing improvement,” said Larry Flood, who owns the Rancho Cucamonga Express franchise, in California’s Inland Empire region, the distribution hub for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
“I think there’s a lot more confidence in the workplace now than there had been,” Flood said. “I get more positive comments than I do negative.”
Temp conversions accelerated in January for skilled light-industrial laborers, like forklift operators, he said.
“We’re happy with the way January’s going,” Flood said. Pay, however, remains mired at recent lows, he said.
The Labor Department is scheduled to release January U.S. employment data on Friday at 8.30 a.m. EST.
Editor’s Note: Reality Check stories survey sentiment among business people and their trade associations. They are intended to complement and anticipate economic data and to provide a view into specific sectors of the U.S. economy.
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