Many job-hunters automatically look to bigger organisations as the source of most job vacancies. But with 99 per cent of the UK’s private companies being classed as small businesses, it could be time to change that assumption.

A new survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) shows that the proportion of smaller employers expecting to increase their headcounts over the next three months stands at a score of +52, indicating a strong appetite for hiring new staff.

In contrast, the figure for large employers was just +11 in the latest Labour Market Outlook. CIPD says this indicates that small and medium-sized enterprises are almost five times more likely to hire more workers than bigger firms in the coming quarter.

The study revealed that employment intentions are at their highest level for more than six years. The net employment balance, which it uses to measure the appetite of employers to take on new employees, rose from +16 to +26 – the best score since autumn 2007.

As the UK continues to show signs of economic recovery, businesses are becoming more optimistic about their prospects for the rest of the year. To cope with rising demand, many are seeking to increase their capacity and support their growing customer bases by taking on new staff.

The data was published to coincide with CIPD’s HR in SMEs conference, which has also heard that firms throughout the country are eager to find new workers with the right expertise.

Gerwyn Davies, labour market adviser at CIPD, says that skills shortages are at risk of spreading, which could mean that employers have to significantly increase their pay offers to find the right talent in the future.

“Against the backdrop of the prediction of strong employment growth, now is the time for employers to ensure that any future plans to increase business investment prioritises investment in training,” he said.

“This will not only help stave off the threat of recruitment difficulties increasing sharply in the future, but also help to boost productivity levels that we know are essential to the nation’s overall economic performance and therefore pay prospects.”