In such a gloomy context -- with the country still bumping along the bottom, four years after the credit crunch -- it's interesting to note at least one sector that is showing life: IT hiring.
The Robert Half Technology Hiring Index, out this week, says one in four U.K. IT leaders and CIOs have plans in place to boost IT headcount. There is a caveat: The study found that directors in London and the South East are the most likely to add new IT positions to their businesses. Those two locations are the most prosperous parts of the U.K., driven by the City of London financial center. Still, the report also gave strong numbers for the rest of the country, e.g., 27% in the Midlands and 21% in the South West and Wales say they plan to add IT staff.
[ Want to know more about IT hiring? Check out our findings from our exclusive research: 6 Surprises About IT Hiring Plans. ]
The staffing company's study found that most hiring will take place in the first half of the year. The survey also reported that 38% of those polled will immediately fill empty posts if staff leave, a sharp reversal from its last few studies. A mere 9% said they'll have fewer tech employees than they do now in six months time.
Robert Half said the data shows firms are looking to "leverage IT to improve efficiencies and facilitate business growth."
What's going on here? The researchers claim that, despite the dismal economy, British businesses are exhibiting greater confidence. In fact, 62% of IT executives said they feel there will be economic growth over the next 12 months -- up three percentage points from the same data a year ago. In addition, 74% think their own organizations will grow this fiscal year, a number up eight points year over year.
This optimistic U.K. IT employment news even mentions factors that IT professionals and HR teams haven't had to worry about for some time: skills gaps and the need for innovative ways to attract and retain programming and project management talent.
The "large majority of companies," it said, are "challenged" when it comes to finding skilled technology talent, particularly in the areas of software development, applications development and security. It also said 71% of IT managers are getting nervous about losing their best IT employees, while 78% report finding it either "very" or "somewhat" challenging to find the right professionals with the right skills in the current market.
The firm recommended techniques to hold onto IT staff like flexible working arrangements, extra holiday time, and greater responsibilities and challenges within roles.
But it also said -- brace yourself -- 2013 may also be the year when businesses are forced to look at awarding pay rises and bonuses to stellar U.K. tech individuals in order to keep them in post.
Because U.K. IT recruitment and salaries have been as flat as the rest of the economy these past few years, any rise is coming off a very low base. Even so, the data is an intriguing counterpoint to talk of a return to recession -- and even that dreaded image of national fiscal emasculation, a potential loss of the U.K.'s AAA credit rating.