Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of Local Tech Wire and business editor of WRAL.com.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – The jobs outlook for “skilled professionals” is really no better than that of the general work force who want a job – or are looking for a better one.

So reports the Robert Half Professional Employment report.

Based on interviews with more than 4,000 executives, the survey reports that a net 5 percent of companies plan to add professional staff. The Robert Half report mirrors the new Manpower survey that was issued Tuesday morning which forecast that a net 4 percent of companies are looking to add workers across all levels. (Read details here.)

In the South Atlantic region, which includes the Carolinas and Georgia, the Robert Half results were even worse with a net 4 percent of firms looking to boost hiring.

At least law firms are looking to grow.

“As they have for the past three quarters, respondents in the legal profession forecast the strongest hiring activity of all fields, with 31 percent of lawyers projecting staff increases and 1 percent anticipating declines,” the report says.

Inside the numbers, there are reasons for professionals in some sectors to be more concerned than others. Robert Half found that finance, insurance and real estate plus business services are looking to cut more than hire.

Professional services firms reported the best hiring prospects at a net plus 7 percent.

Interestingly, the survey also found that many executives are finding the talent pool somewhat limiting.

Fifty-one percent of those surveyed said it is “challenging” to find skilled professionals.

That figure tracks with the UNC-CH Kenan-Flagler and American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ economic survey issued on Monday in which “availability of skilled personnel” was cited as the sixth of 10 biggest concerns. A year ago, access to talent was the least of the finance executives’ top 10 concerns. ((For more details, read here.)

The Robert Half survey certainly reflects corporate America’s general resistance to adding jobs even though companies are sitting on record amounts of cash. A whopping 81 percent of the execs said they were “somewhat confident” their businesses would grow in the first quarter. Of those, 40 percent were very optimistic. Yet only a net 5 percent of firms are looking to hire.

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