Job fears recede as firms prepare to ride out recession

city  london

Most top 20 firms say they will resist slashing staff levels and continue to
recruit graduates as the recession deepens, suggesting that they have learned
from mistakes made in previous economic downturns.

Although they cut just over 1,100 jobs in the last 12 months, staff numbers
this year are expected to remain broadly unchanged, according to an
Accountancy Age survey of the firms’ HR strategies and recruitment

Some firms —
Clark Whitehill
­ even plan to increase staff numbers in 2009 compared to last year.

Firms appear to be taking a more considered approach to job cuts compared to
downturns in previous decades when they were accused of slashing too many staff,
leaving them unprepared for when the economy recovered. In 2002, for example,
KPMG cut about 700 jobs in
response to reduced demand for its services.

This time round KPMG has taken a different approach by inviting staff to
apply for a four-day working week or sabbaticals, in an effort to avoid further

More than half of firms said staff levels would be higher or the same in 2009
compared to 2008, while half will maintain graduate recruitment numbers.

Most of the firms are operating flexible working schemes to cut costs and
move people around their business to busier service lines.

‘The transferability of skills is something that we have invested in and it
is paying dividends now,’ said Sacha Romanovitch, a partner on the national
leadership board at
Grant Thornton.

The picture for graduate recruitment is mixed; seven respondents said 2009
graduate recruitment levels were similar to 2008 and six firms said they would
cut their graduate recruitment, although they said these cuts were minimal.

Vantis said it is
increasing graduate recruitment slightly.

Recruitment experts said firms are ‘clearing out the cupboards’ of some
senior staff and replacing them with less expensive workers.

‘They’re using it as an opportunity to clear out the dead wood,’ said Adam
Leon, head of accountancy recruiters
. ‘They may be less expensive and may be less experienced, but
the firms will recognise that and cope with it.’

But Phil Shohet of accountancy consultants
Kato warned that the firms
were cutting too many experienced staff. ‘Clients need real experience from
experienced professionals, those with grey hair,’ he said. ‘Graduates have
technical ability but these clients are looking to survive.’

Smith &
, Haines Watts and
Saffery Champness
declined to comment, while
& Young
refused to reveal whether it plans to cut jobs this year.

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