HIRING intentions in Singapore are up despite employers staying cautious.

A quarterly report of employment trends here notes that 44.6 per cent of employers intend to increase their headcount in the first three months of this year. This is 8.7 percentage points higher than in the previous quarter, said Employment firm Hudson.

The proportion of bosses thinking of freezing their staff numbers this quarter fell by 11.2 percentage points to 46.1 per cent.

However, the number of bosses likely to lay off workers rose 2.5 percentage points to 9.3 per cent.

Hudson's upbeat numbers, released yesterday, were based on a poll of 5,900 employers in the Asia-Pacific.

The report comes just days after job-placement firm Achiever Group released the results of its survey, which said as much: It had said that employers would be looking to hire more in the next six months, even as tighter foreign worker policies continue to put a squeeze on manpower.

Andrew Tomich, Hudson's executive general manager here, said: "The challenging economic conditions in other parts of the world has created a level of caution among local employers, but overall hiring sentiment has improved in Singapore."

He identified the primary driver of this positive hiring sentiment as large multinational corporations' moving of their key regional corporate functions here, reflecting their focus on long-term growth within their Asian-based businesses.

Mr Tomich, referring to the trends from the figures, said the higher percentage of employers planning to hire, combined with the big drop in the percentage intending to keep the employment level, suggests "many employers have decided to hire rather than hold steady this quarter".

Employers in the info-technology and telecommunications (IT&T) industry are the most optimistic about hiring prospects in the next three months. More than half of them (53.1 per cent) plan to take on more workers, a rise of 29.8 percentage points.

The Hudson report said: "Increased hiring intentions in the IT&T industry is reflective of the shrinking pool of suitable hires and increasing demand for skilled workers. As restrictions on foreign workers further constrict the labour market and demand increases for skilled, ready-to-work hires, hiring intention is likely to continue to grow."

Hiring intentions are also strong in banking and financial services, where the percentage rose 13.9 points to 45 per cent.

Recruitment of workers in supporting roles such as back-office operations and financed-based positions has slowed, Hudson said, but it noted that employers continue to add staff in critical areas such as risk management and compliance, and sales and relationship management.

In the manufacturing and industrial sector, the number of employers likely to hire in the next three months rose slightly to 36 per cent.

The outlook for hiring on a contract basis is also brighter, especially in the IT&T industry; hiring intentions in this area jumped 19.1 percentage points to 39.1 per cent.

In banking and financial services, the percentage rose 16.9 points to 35.1 per cent; in the manufacturing and industrial sector, it rose 4.9 points to 23.4 per cent.

Mr Tomich said: "Generally, the local candidate market continues to resist contract opportunities as a career option and employers will still look to fill critical roles from a more restricted pool of foreign contract workers."

The report also examined the top priorities of human resource departments this year: More than a third (35.4 per cent) of the employers surveyed said staff retention came first.

Another 22.3 per cent cited attracting suitable staff as most important; 13.3 per cent said they were likely to focus on boosting the performance and productivity of existing workers.