Hays unveiled plans to hire up to 200 consultants in its UK and Ireland business over the next year in its biggest recruitment drive since 2007, as it posted a jump in profits in the first half of the year.

“I feel more positive about the UK than I ever have since joining Hays in 2007,” said Alistair Cox, chief executive. “We’re positive the market is there, and don’t want to get caught out without enough capacity to meet market demand.”

The recruitment company employed 5,150 consultants worldwide – up 2 per cent year on year – with just over 2,000 of them based in the UK and Ireland. An additional 200 staff would increase the headcount in the company’s UK and Ireland division – its core business – by 10 per cent.

The push represents the continuation of an ongoing drive to take advantage of strong conditions in the UK. In 2013, the UK and Ireland headcount increased by 171, while the headcount for Asia Pacific and continental Europe fell over the same period.

In January Hays reported strong growth in its UK business across all regions and sectors in the three months to the end of December, as well as renewed growth in permanent contracts.

Across the second half of 2013, pre-tax profits rose 10 per cent to £62.5m year-on-year. Net fees rose 1 per cent over the same period, and 2 per cent on a like-for-like basis, to £363m.

According to Mr Cox, the company is now beginning to see signs of wage inflation in key sectors in the UK such as construction, and an increasing number of counter-offers for highly-skilled workers.

“What we’re now starting to see is skill shortages, people struggling to find exactly what they need,” he said. “This is leading to wage inflation.”

Data from the ONS showed that the unemployment rate rose to 7.2 per cent in the final three months of 2013. Despite the slight rise, unemployment is now far lower than the 7.9 per cent earlier in 2013, on the back of improved job creation and economic growth.

Hays operates in 33 countries around the world. While net fees rose 6 per cent in the company’s continental Europe and rest of world division, they fell by 10 per cent in Asia Pacific.

Difficult market conditions in Australia caused net fees to fall 17 per cent, though fees grew 23 per cent in Asia, with all five of the Asian countries in which Hays operates growing by more than 10 per cent.

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