Employment will continue to grow in the first quarter this year with no evidence of a national hiring slowdown that could indicate an imminent recession, according to a business survery released last night.

In the metropolitan Washington area, about 25 percent of employers polled plan to increase their staffs in the next three months, 66 percent expect no change, 8 percent expect cutbacks due to normal seasonal business declines and one percent are unsure.

Nationally, the outlook is marginally more pessimistic -- with 24 percent expecting to hire, 59 percent planning no changes, 14 percent planning cutbacks and 3 percent unsure.

The hiring plans survey was conducted by Manpower Inc., of Milwaukee, a large temporary employment concern. Manpower surveys public and private sectors in some 200 cities for tis quarterly reports.

Manpower's forecast for the first quarter of 1979 reflects that hiring plans are down slightly from the same periods early in 1977 and 1978.

"The results... show no indication of a slackened demand for additional workers. Much more hiring pessim sm would be evident, were a recession imminent in the first half" of this year, said Manpower President Mitchell Fromstein.

Hiring plans are down from the previous quarter but that reflects the seasonal nature of some businesses, particularly retailing, which hire extra workers for the holiday sales season.

In the metropolitan area, Manpower's surveyors found:

Employers in Northern Virginia, for the second consecutive quarter, are the most optimistic about the economy in terms of hiring plans. A third plan to add personnel this quarter, 57 percent see no changes and 10 percent forecast reductions. Hiring is expectd in the manufacturing, finance, real estate, insurance and services industries.

Suburban Maryland employers forecast the weakest employment situation in the metropolitan area. with 22 percent expecting to hire additional workers, 67 percent planning no changes, 8 percent counting on cutbacks and 3 percent uncertain. In Montgomery County alone, 81 percent of employers see no change in jobs.

Of D.C. employers, 25 percent see new hiring, 67 percent expect no change, 3 percent are uncertain and 8 percent predict decreases. Hiring is planned in the transportation, utility, services, real estate, finance and insurance industries of the city.

Among regions of the U.S. the South reflects the most economic optimism in hiring plans, Manpower said. Among industrial sectors, durable and nondurable goods manufacturers expect employment increases, but construction hiring forecasts are at the lowest level since 1976 -- reflecting a seasonal decline in building during winter months and soaring interest rates that have led to reduced construction plans.

Other significant declines are forecast in retailing -- more than is accounted for by seasonal variations -- and government.