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UK employers sharpen job axe

But industry still begging for science skills

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Employers expect a dismal time ahead in the jobs market because of a rise in redundancies accompanied by a downturn in recruitment.

According to the latest Labour Market Outlook survey, 29 per cent of businesses expect to hire new staff before the end of September – that’s half as many compared to the same period in 2004 when firms upped employee numbers by 58 per cent.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) carried out the survey of 1,221 UK employees in partnership with accountanting firm KPMG. It found that 27 per cent of employers planned to lay off staff before October, while 22 per cent said they intended to sack workers between April and the end of June next year.

However, the picture is not quite as gloomy for employees as last winter when 38 per cent of businesses declared they would cut back on recruitment amid fears about the global credit crisis and an economic downturn.

"The jobs market has been one of the few bright spots in the UK economy, but cracks are appearing in the face of an increasingly uncertain economic outlook,” said CIPD chief economist John Philpott.

"Even if we avoid the scale of jobs fallout suffered in previous downturns, the era of the candidate's recruitment market is already over, with people in work becoming increasingly anxious that their P45 might soon be on its way."

More than a quarter (26 per cent) of companies said they expected to be left with a decreased workforce this autumn.

Employees lucky enough to stay in work will see only a modest increase in pay. Employers looking at pay reviews in the third quarter expect to award their staff an average raise of 3.7 per cent, or 3.9 per cent after bonus payments have been taken into account.

"Companies are now reacting to deteriorating market conditions. With sales slowing and input costs rising, but scope to raise prices limited by weakening demand, finances are under pressure,” said KPMG chief economist Andrew Smith.

"It looks as if employment costs, the main area over which businesses retain control, are taking the strain with employers seeking both to keep a lid on pay settlements and, in increasing numbers, planning for redundancies. The labour market is suddenly looking a lot less resilient."

Science to keep wolves at bay

Meanwhile, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said today that Blighty’s brightest kids should be required to study three separate science courses in secondary school to offset a shortage of employees in that sector.

The government has agreed that from next month all 14-year-olds achieving a Level 6 score in national SATs tests will be entitled to study a triple science GCSE course, covering chemistry, biology and physics.

However, the CBI has argued that the 250,000 (roughly 40 per cent) kids attaining the required SATs standard should be automatically opted-in for the three science subjects.

"Young people are missing out," said CBI director general Richard Lambert. "They are doing better than ever in science tests at 14, but hardly any are going on to study Triple science GCSE, despite the opportunities and learning it offers.

“We need to create an environment in schools that reflects the importance of science, and the value of studying it. We also need to send an unambiguous message to young people who are good at science that science as a career can be fascinating and worthwhile, and will reward you well.”

The CBI claimed that some schools lack the specialist science teachers needed to deliver triple science. As a result, the employers' group reckoned the government would have to phase in the policy. "But we hope that by 2013 all schools should have enough specialist teachers to operate it," it said.

According to the CBI findings, only seven per cent of 16-year-olds currently take three science GCSEs. The vast majority study single or double science courses because of limited resources at many state-funded schools, while the number of specialist science teachers has halved over the past 20 years. These make for two worrying trends the CBI wants the government to overcome. ®

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