U.S. employers are expected to remain exceptionally guarded in terms of hiring workers for the balance of 2011, according to the latest Manpower Employment Outlook Survey, conducted by global human resource consulting firm ManpowerGroup – though the firm’s poll also finds employers aren’t planning to reduce head count, either.

According to the firm’s seasonally adjusted survey results, its net employment outlook for the fourth quarter is at 7%, up from 6% during the same period in 2010 but down from 8% in the third quarter this year.

While the outlook is positive overall and marginally ahead of 2010, the one point quarter-over-quarter drop is the first decrease that’s occurred in nine quarters, although Jonas Prising, ManpowerGroup’s president of the Americas, stressed the drop is slight.

“Employers are hesitant to make big decisions when it comes to hiring in the fourth quarter,” he noted in a statement. “Recent economic conditions, coupled with our survey results, indicate hiring intentions among U.S. employers remain guarded with a low level of job creation expected in the short term. When all eyes are focused on jobs as a true indicator for economic stability, our survey results suggest no significant hiring increases at least through year end.”

Of the more than 18,000 employers surveyed by ManpowerGroup, 16% anticipate an increase in staff levels in their fourth quarter hiring plans, while 11% expect a decrease in payrolls, resulting in a net employment outlook of 5% which, when seasonally adjusted, rises to 7%. Some 70% of employers expect no change in their hiring plans, with the 3% indicating they are undecided about their hiring intentions, ManpowerGroup’s survey found.

“Even though we’re seeing a slight slowdown in hiring momentum for the fourth quarter, we know employers are struggling to fill open positions that require specialized and technical skills,” added Prising.

“This talent mismatch, between the available job candidates and the skills needed for open positions, presents a challenging paradox as we see high unemployment rates along with employers who want to hire but can't find the right person in the right place,” he said. “This workplace challenge will continue to build when more jobs open up and the economy recovers.”