By Marcus Leach

The UK's Employment Outlook has slipped to its weakest level since the final quarter of 2009, according to Manpower, the global leader in contingent and permanent recruitment workforce solutions.

Employers in the Finance and Business Services sector suffer yet another setback this quarter with a 0% Outlook, representing the third consecutive five point quarterly fall, from +15% in Q2, to +10% in Q3 and +5% in Q4 of 2011. The sector's employers have now gone from being the most optimistic at the start of 2011 to being among the most pessimistic.

The Manpower Employment Outlook Survey is based on responses from 2,100 UK employers. It asks whether they intend to hire additional workers in the coming economic quarter. It is the most comprehensive, forward-looking employment survey of its kind and is used as a key economic statistic by both the Bank of England and the UK government.

The national Seasonally Adjusted Net Employment Outlook of 0%1 indicates that the jobs market is now flat-lining; eight in 10 employers are not intending to change their staffing levels in the next quarter, but the number of employers looking to hire new staff is comparable to the number expecting to cut jobs. This compares to a marginally positive Net Employment Outlook of +1% in Q4, 2011.

“The 2012 jobs market sits on a knife edge. In some ways this is a reflection of a weakening economy," said Manpower UK Managing Director, Mark Cahill.

"We hear stories about companies hoarding cash and not investing. In the same way, we see a number of business sectors battening down the hatches, holding onto 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."

Of the sectors that are creating jobs, however, Utilities is the most positive, with employers in the Water, Gas and Electricity industries reporting hiring intentions of +13%, a rise of 2 percentage points on the previous quarter.

This sector has proved particularly resilient, as the only sector demonstrating a positive Outlook in every quarter throughout the downturn. The Manufacturing sector also shows signs of optimism with employers reporting a cautiously optimistic Outlook of +5%.

“We should not lose sight of the fact that there are still hundreds of thousands of vacancies out there," Cahill continued.

"Employers continue to look for skilled and motivated candidates who show a real desire and determination to work. People who are willing to learn new skills are the ones who will succeed in this challenging environment. Those with a 'refuse-to-lose' attitude will find work.”

Looking across the country, as this map shows, there's a new East-West divide emerging with a vertical line running straight down from the North of England to the South.

“Our data has revealed a new axis emerging in the jobs market. It‟s almost as if someone has sliced England in half with employers in the East currently much more optimistic about hiring than those in the West," Cahill added.

On an individual region basis, employers in the North East of England report the most optimistic hiring plans going into 2012 with an Outlook of +10%. Although it's well documented that parts of the North East currently have the highest unemployment levels in the UK, Manpower has found that employers there are more optimistic than in any other region. Employers in the East Midlands and the East of England each report healthy Outlooks of +7% and +5%, respectively. The South East is +4% and London +5% despite a wave of recent redundancies in the financial sector.

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