LONDON (Reuters) - The number of Britons placed in permanent jobs rose for the fourth consecutive month in January, a survey showed on Friday, a possible sign the economy is returning to modest growth.
The Recruitment and Employment Confederation said its seasonally adjusted index of permanent staff placements held at 53.2 in January, pointing to steady growth compared with a month earlier.
Demand for permanent staff in IT and the engineering and construction sector rose strongly, while appetite for hotel and catering workers was little changed.
Olly Watson, UK managing director at recruiters PageGroup (MPI.L), said that although he had seen little pick-up in the number of job openings in January, there was a greater commitment to fill them since the start of the year.
"Most of the last year we were convinced that the world was going to fall apart," he said.
"What we are seeing (now) is more confidence returning to actually seeing through a recruitment process," he added.
PageGroup, which is paid a percentage of the salary of each worker placed, saw a 2.2 percent dip in fees from placing British workers in permanent jobs in the final quarter of 2012.
The new survey underlines the surprising strength of Britain's labour market. Despite just one quarter of economic growth in 2012, late in the year the number of jobless declined to its lowest since early 2011 and the unemployment rate dropped to 7.7 percent.
But far from everyone has been left unscathed by the economic weakness. Retailer HMV announced on Thursday that it would close 66 loss-making stores, which could cost 930 people their jobs.
The survey also found that starting salaries rose at their fastest pace since September 2011, helped by continued growth in vacancies and lower availability of candidates.
The National Institute of Economic and Social Research forecast on Tuesday the British economy would grow by just 0.7 per cent in 2013 - enough to avoid a triple-dip recession but a signal of a long haul back to prosperity.
(Additional reporting by Li-mei Hoang)