With a key monthly U.S. employment report due Friday, it’s useful to ask a man who runs a multinational employment services firm for his view of the jobs market.
After all, the stubbornly high unemployment rate (9.7%) is the key restraint on a more robust recovery.
So what’s the word from Jeffrey A. Joerres, who leads the Milwaukee-based Manpower Inc., which recently reported a 13% increase in first quarter revenues to $4.1 billion and net earnings of $2.8 million?
“It’s obvious that things are better, but they are not at the point that it’s all tied up and put away. The animal is still roaming around here.”
The ‘animal’ is still-high unemployment, which will crimp U.S. consumer spending, the traditional engine of U.S. growth and growth in much of the world.
Consistent with comments the Manpower chairman and chief executive made to this columnist in late January, when he said “2010 will feel better than 2009 but not that much better,” Joerres said today there will be no “sonic boom” in this U.S. recovery, “no euphoric feeling.”
The report on April employment (which follows March gains of 162,000 jobs) will show more of the same, slow improvement, Joerres ventured in an interview here in New York.
Capital spending is growing, hours worked are rising but permanent hiring is very slow to come around, he said. The temporary staffing industry, including Manpower, benefits from what Joerres sees as a “secular” change in hiring.
The uncertainty of the economic future and other factors are keeping more employers interested in temporary help for a longer period of time. (Interestingly, Joerres says 70% of temporary jobs turn into permanent ones.)
Temporary work in the U.S. peaked in 2007 at 1.8% of the work force. Joerres thinks the secular changes might push that number in the U.S. to 2.5% of the work force some time in the foreseeable future, a significant change but “not the tomato that ate New York.”
A similar trend can be seen in Europe, he said.
Speaking of Europe, it’s a key region for Manpower, which derives only 10% of its revenues from the U.S. Joerres said “Greece cannot at this time be minimized” and that sovereign debt fears hang like “an ash cloud over Europe.” Still, Manpower’s own business in Europe continues to grow, mainly in light industrial work.
Another trend: smaller companies are turning to Manpower because they have cost-cut their way out of being able to evaluate and hire on their own, having gutted human resources capabilities.
“I’m putting more on your shoulders,” clients tell Joerres.