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Hiring outlook for 2010 is grim

2010 will not be the year the hiring floodgates open.

Although certain sectors of the economy are showing signs of a thaw, employers say they plan to tread carefully in the coming year, and those that are hiring say they will wait until the second half to fill jobs.

But there is hope for employees who saw hours and benefits slashed, or who took on extra responsibilities as companies tried to hold on to the talent that kept them afloat in tough times.

Tom Wilson, managing director at investment management firm Brinker Capital, said unemployment was expected to decline by 1 percentage point each year as the economy recovers, meaning that by the end of 2010, unemployment would hover at about 9%.

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Over the last 18 months, people have “hunkered down” at their jobs, said Brian Kropp, managing director of the Corporate Leadership Council, which surveys about 300,000 employees each quarter.

In a normal economy, he said, 25% of employees say they intend to stay at their job, but at the end of 2008 that number rose to 30% and has remained steady. At the same time, those employees are putting in less effort than ever, he said.

“A lot of people became less productive in terms of how much effort they’re putting forth, but they’re not going anywhere,” Kropp said.

After cuts to rewards budgets and additional workloads in the downturn, Kropp said, 2010 will be the year employers try to reengage that workforce to prevent future turnover.

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“Employees . . . remember how they’ve been treated across the last 12 to 15 months,” he said.

In particular, he said, a quarter of the top 10% of employees surveyed -- the highest performers and those who took on much of the extra work -- said they were looking for another job.

“There’s always a place for top talent,” said Greg Martens, senior vice president at Aon Consulting in Chicago. “The top high-potential individuals who are at the top of their games are always sought after.” Kropp and Martens said employers would try to win back the hearts of top performers by letting them do such things as work from home and select part of their job responsibilities.

For 90% of employees, Kropp said, companies will concentrate on role definition.

“Employees don’t know what their job is anymore. So they go and ask their manager, and a lot of times their manager doesn’t know, so they don’t get a good answer,” he said.

In 2010, small businesses plan to add back the hours and raises they took away in lieu of layoffs, said Michael Alter, president of Chicago-based SurePayroll, which provides payroll services and aggregates data from more than 25,000 small businesses nationwide. On average, the small-business employee earned 9% less this year than in 2008, he said.

“Small businesses first buffered the downturn by taking cuts themselves,” he said. “Then they started cutting hours and pay. Then they started using independent contractors, freelancers.” In 2010, small businesses will continue to use contracted labor, he said, rather than fill positions.

“There’s a trend that has changed how small business operates,” he said. “The number of contractors has doubled, from 2% to 4%. You’ll see that more and more.” Some areas, particularly technology, energy and healthcare, will continue to grow and will hire in 2010, said David M. Smith, associate professor of economics at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management.

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U.S. Cellular plans to hire 30 data and technical support specialists, full time and with benefits, by the second quarter for its customer-care center in Illinois to assist customers with their smart phones.

“Now, everybody has a smart phone,” said Rudel DeCastro, U.S. Cellular site director in Bolingbrook, Ill. “And there’s growing demand for [support] for smart phones.”

jwernau@tribune.com


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