By Li-mei Hoang
LONDON Feb 26 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 percent 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 UK 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 ($104.27 million) from 57 million pounds 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 9 percent year on year to 120 million pounds - 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 5-10 percent 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.
Shares in the company were up 1 percent to 139 pence by 1156 GMT.
"Momentum looks positive going into the second half, and this means there is upside potential," Investec analyst Andrew Gibb said in a note.
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."