U.K. recruitment firm puts out 'help wanted sign'

Hays, buoyed by construction and property markets, is hiring for the first time in 6 years

LONDON, U.K. (Reuters) — British recruitment company Hays is preparing to boost its own workforce for the first time in six years after the recovering construction and property markets helped to lift pretax profit by 10 per cent in the first half of its financial year.

Having been forced to reduce headcount at the height of the recession, Hays is growing increasingly optimistic about its prospects as the British economy strengthens.

"We've made more money in the U.K. in the first half than we made in the whole of the previous year," CEO Alistair Cox told Reuters after announcing that pretax profit rose to 62.5 million pounds ($115.8 million Cdn) from 57 million pounds ($105.7 million) a year earlier.

"I think that's a sign of the times. Personally, I feel more confident about the UK than at any time since 2007."

Hays, which places workers in sectors such as finance, construction and IT, said that first-half net fee income in Britain was up nine per cent year on year to 120 million pounds ($225.5 million) — its first increase in six years.

"If you look at the UK, the business is growing so fast that we'll probably increase our own headcount by between 100 and 200 people over the next 12 months," Cox said.

The proposed five to 10 per cent increase to its workforce is in response to a broad-based improvement in the UK and Ireland, which accounts for 31 percent of its business.

Hays also reported good growth in Germany, France, Russia and Canada, with 13 countries delivering net fee growth of more than 10 percent.

Three of the 33 countries in which Hays operates suffered a decline in net fees, most notably Australia, which has been hit by a slowdown in the mining sector.

"Australia has been a tough market," Cox acknowledged. "... However, it has been broadly stable for several months and the signs look increasingly positive."

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