Business executives maintained their generally upbeat view of prospects for the U.S. economy, and have upgraded expectations for profit and revenue growth over the next 12 months, according to the third-quarter AICPA Economic Outlook Survey, which polls chief executive officers, chief financial officers, controllers and other certified public accountants in U.S. companies who hold executive and senior management accounting roles. But there is a dark cloud on the horizon: the growing scarcity of suitable job candidates.

For the first time, “availability of skilled personnel” was cited as the top challenge facing companies, up from No. 2 last quarter. Seventy- five percent of respondents said they were seeing at least some increased competition in recruitment efforts, with 21 percent reporting a significant increase. At the end of 2014, the last time this survey question was asked, only 16 percent said they were experiencing a significant increase in hiring competition.

“One out of five business executives say their company has lost out on top job candidates because of increased competition, and a majority say they’re having trouble finding the right candidate to begin with,” said Arleen R. Thomas, CPA, CGMA, managing director of Americas Market, Global Offerings & CGMA Exam, Management Accounting for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. “For some companies, the scarcity of skilled workers could have an impact on productivity and growth over time.”

Despite recruiting challenges, half of business executives said their companies had the right number of employees. Nearly one-in-four (24 percent) said they planned to hire immediately, the same as last quarter, while another 15 percent said they had too few employees but were hesitant to hire. Business executives who said their companies had too many employees dropped from 8 percent to 7 percent, quarter over quarter.

Sixty-four percent of business executives said they were optimistic about the 12-month prospects for the U.S. economy, the same as last quarter. Revenue and profit expectations returned to levels from the start of the year after dipping last quarter. Business executives now expect revenue growth of 4.3 percent over the next 12 months, up from 3.9 percent. Profits are expected to grow 3.5 percent, up from 3.2 percent last quarter.

The AICPA survey is a forward-looking indicator that tracks hiring and business-related expectations for the next 12 months. As a point of comparison, the U.S. Department of Labor’s August employment report, scheduled for release tomorrow, looks back on the previous month’s hiring trends.

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