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UPDATE 2-Need to hire problem-solvers boosts recruiter SThree

* FY adj. profit 30.1 mln stg vs est. of 28.2 mln stg

* Co proposes final dividend of 5 pence/share

* Shares up 4% in morning trade

* STEM sector hires set to lead, flexible working to continue

* CFO Alex Smith to step down (Adds CEO quote, shares, details from statement)

Jan 25 (Reuters) - Recruiter SThree posted better-than-expected profit on Monday and said it will resume dividend payments, following a recovery in its U.S. business and an increase in COVID-19-related hiring, especially by drug companies.

While the pandemic led sectors, including leisure and hospitality, to cut jobs, new roles emerged as pharmaceutical companies pumped cash into drug and vaccine development and demand for problem-solving skills rose.

SThree said it expected hiring to continue to accelerate in the sector known as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and flexible working will also persist.

The company said it had worked closely with Germany’s BioNTech on the recruitment of experts to help deliver its COVID-19 vaccine that was among the first to get initial approvals late last year.

“One of the lessons from 2020 is that talent in Life Sciences, Technology and elements of Engineering is pretty critical in terms of solving problems for us all and moving the economy forward,” SThree boss Mark Dormam told Reuters after the results.

In particular, he said SThree had worked on the placement of staff specialised in regulatory affairs to ensure companies were able to distribute drugs or vaccines as swiftly as possible.

SThree climbed 4% on the FTSE small-cap index by 1046 GMT, following a 21% plunge in 2020.

SThree’s adjusted earnings for the 12 months to Nov. 30 halved year-on-year to 30.1 million pounds, but topped analysts’ expectations of 28.2 million pounds as per Eikon data from Refinitiv.

The company plans to pay a final dividend of 5 pence a share after suspending it last year because of the pandemic.

Its rivals Hays, PageGroup and Robert Walters have pointed to signs of recovery in some markets.

SThree also said its chief financial officer Alex Smith would be stepping down after 12 years in the role. It did not elaborate on the reasons for his departure.

$1 = 0.7293 pounds Reporting by Indranil Sarkar and Muvija M in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V and Amy Caren Daniel and Barbara Lewis

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