Business Executives Adopt More Favorable View on Hiring, AICPA Survey Finds

Business executives are more optimistic about a broad range of performance indicators for the coming year, which has led to a more favorable view on hiring, according to the third quarter AICPA Economic Outlook Survey.

The survey polls CEOs, CFOs, controllers and other CPAS in U.S. companies who hold executive and senior management accounting positions.

A majority of survey takers, 51%, said their companies or organizations have the right number of employees, the AICPA announced. But nearly one in five companies now say they expect to hire new staffers in the coming year, compared to 17% last quarter and 13% at the end of 2013. Another 18% said they had too few employees but were hesitant to hire because of economic uncertainty.

Finding job candidates with the right skills is becoming more difficult, however, many survey respondents said in comments. For the second straight quarter, “availability of skilled personnel” was cited as the No. 3 top challenge for businesses, behind “regulatory requirements and changes” (No. 1) and “domestic economic conditions” (No. 2).

“AICPA’s survey results echo a key concern for businesses, which is the mismatch between open staff positions and the pool of qualified candidates available to fill them,” says Valerie Rainey, vice chair of the AICPA’s business and industry executive committee. “That may explain why the findings show an uptick in plans for spending on training and other work force investments.”

The CPA Outlook Index – a comprehensive gauge of executive sentiment within the AICPA survey – rose two points in the third quarter to 74, a post-recession high. The index is a composite of nine, equally weighted survey measures set on a scale of 0 to 100, with 50 considered neutral and greater numbers signifying positive sentiment.

Every category of the index rose both quarter over quarter and year over year. The largest increases in the past quarter were related to three performance indicators – expected profit, revenue and employment growth, which all rose 5 points.

Among other findings of the survey:

  • Headcount is now expected to increase by 1.8% over the next year, an improvement over the 1.3% growth expected last quarter. More than 22% of companies said they planned to increase employees by 4% or more. Less than 4% said they planned to decrease payroll by that amount.
  • Anticipated growth in spending on training over the next year edged up from 1.8% last quarter to 2%, its highest level since the recession.
  • For the second straight quarter, a majority of business executives (52%) expressed optimism about the U.S. economy for the coming year. Survey takers were also more favorable about prospects for their own companies (65% expressed optimism, up 4 percentage points from last quarter).
  • The most optimistic sector for the coming year is professional, scientific and technical services, while health care providers are the most pessimistic. Technology, one of the most upbeat sectors in recent years, fell sharply in optimism in the past quarter. Hiring expectations for tech still outpace the average for the coming year, however.