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Tough times 2008, by Carl Malways

On the surface all is looking very rosy for the UK labour market if you’re looking for a job. Despite a huge inflow of migrant workers since the enlargement of the European Union the number of people claiming unemployment benefit has consistently remained below the one million mark in the last two years and has fallen by over 100,000 in 2007.

Nevertheless cracks are starting to show in the economy. Interest rates have risen five times since July 2006 and are likely to rise one more time by the end of the year. Higher interest rates are likely to hit both consumers and businesses alike as debt repayments become even more of a stretch. It should be noted that increases in interest rates take about a year to feed through to the economy so get ready for last years rate rises to start to hit!

Other weaknesses are showing. The slowdown in the US economy has been going on for most of the year without major consequences for the UK. The recovery in the major EU countries has helped to buffer the reduction in US demand for UK exports. However, the EU recovery is starting to look short-lived. The Italian economy posted very weak growth figures in the second quarter of year, whilst higher European Central Bank (ECB) interest rates are starting to hinder Germany and France.


Nevertheless on the surface it would seem that the slowdown is not having much of an impact on people’s day-to-day lives. Last week’s financial market chaos would have been a big headache for those working in the City of London or those with large share portfolios, but that’s a minority of the country.

The financial chaos should however start alarm bells ringing. It is not yet clear how the current mess in the international financial markets will play out, but if this turmoil continues then the cracks in the economy could well become holes for jobs to fall through. The financial crisis has exacerbated problem – few had been predicted that the United States could potentially move into recession until the events of last week.

It seems unlikely that the UK will suffer as much as the US. There are no credible analyst suggesting that the UK will enter a period of recession, but as the economy is squeezed by higher interest rates and as chaotic financial markets hit business confidence there will be those that will lose their jobs.

The first possible group to see job losses will be those working in the financial and business services sector in the City of London. Initial estimates had suggested that job losses in the City are likely to number a few thousand, but this number is likely to be revised upwards. The impact of this will be relatively limited to the London area.

The next sign to watch out for is a slowdown in consumer and business spending. With the financial markets looking wobbly and with higher debt repayments businesses will reduce their spending on goods and services, and also on headcounts.

Uncertainty in the financial markets leads to uncertainty in the business environment. Plans to invest will be hit as uncertainty increases the risk that they may not be able to afford the repayments in the future.


A slowdown in consumer spending is likely to follow. Higher interest rates will increase the cost of consumer debt repayments, primarily mortgages. However, this is likely to have a limited impact according to the Bank of England.

Consumer spending will also be constrained by the reduction in business spending. As businesses reduce spending employment growth will slow as will wage growth. With less money in their pockets the consumer will stay at home, rather than spending on the high street.

With business spending less on goods and services, those that supply those goods and services will have a reduction in turnover. With consumers spending less on goods and services these suppliers will also see reduced turnover. Lower turnover cause firms to fold or reduce costs; inevitably job cuts will be part of this process.

So when will this all come to a head? Most analysts suggest that 2008 will be the crunch point when the various factors come together to produce an economic slowdown. Expect to feel the pinch wherever you work, there are unlikely to be many sectors that don’t see an impact.

With this warning in hand I would suggest knuckling down and making sure your boss realises that you’re indispensable, even when business is bad! 2008 is going to be a tough year try to limit the suffering.

 

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