By Ben Simmons

A further 48,000 joined the ranks of the unemployed over the past three months, bringing the total of UK jobless to a 17-year high.

Reacting to the news are company directors, economists and trade unionists:

Richard Baker, Director, Robert Half UK laments the deteriorating indicators, though adds that employment options within specialist areas remain numerous.

“Once again today’s figures from the ONS show a negative outlook in the jobs market. However, there is still increasing supply and demand for jobs in specialised areas such as accountancy, finance, IT and financial services, which are all faring far better than the national average. Interestingly, we are seeing a changing appetite in what companies evaluate in a candidate, with hiring managers looking to recruit ‘specialists’ who can make an immediate difference to a business and ultimately the bottom line. Finding and retaining skilled professionals has become increasingly challenging and those who are able to provide this ‘return-on-capital’ are highly sought after.

“Despite reported challenges facing the private sector, recent research carried out last month (January) by Robert Half among 600 senior executives from across UK businesses to determine their hiring plans for the first half of 2012, shows that a net 14% of executives plan to increase their permanent headcount in the first half of the year — which is extremely encouraging. Rising workloads continue to present obstacles to these organisations and is the primary reason cited among 50% of executives surveyed for adding staff.

“The government’s ‘Youth Contract’ will play a key role in stimulating the jobs market. It’s imperative that employers create opportunities for graduates, whether that comes in the form of an internship or training programmes, to ensure we avoid a lost generation of talent that will impact the modern workforce for years to come. Work experience is invaluable for new job hunters and it is here that organisations can really make a difference.”

Scott Liversidge, managing partner at Flame Health, calls on the government to tray more to stimulate private sector jobs growth, adding that the labour market is at its most competitive since Margaret Thatcher.

“The only positive indicator in the jobs market at the moment lies in the ‘Report on jobs’ compiled by the REC and KPMG. The research has shown that the number of permanent job placements has risen for the first time in four months which is encouraging. Unemployment, as we see from the figures today, still remains far too high in the UK however, there are still sectors creating jobs. Healthcare, clerical, IT and engineering & construction are just some of these. We have placed the same amount of candidates in permanent roles this January as we did last year which is further evidence that there is no slowdown in vacancies in the healthcare sector.

“We are now looking at the most competitive job market the UK has seen since the days of Margaret Thatcher. With a candidate pool so large, the onus now lies with the individuals, not the companies to make themselves stand out in any way they can. Nothing is going to change overnight in terms of unemployment but these figures will surely push the government to look at ways to incentivise the private sector into creating more jobs.”

Richard Driver, analyst for Caxton FX, was not surprised by the news, expecting unemployment to climb still higher throughout 2012:

"This morning’s UK unemployment figures are obviously disappointing but the deteriorating state of the labour market is a natural consequence of the Government’s public sector cuts and constrained confidence levels and activity in the private sector. UK unemployment is likely to rise before the picture improves in 2013, probably climbing to 9% towards the back end of 2012."

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