Top business executives who are also CPAs are raising their expectations for hiring in the coming year, according to a new survey by the American Institute of CPAs.

The quarterly AICPA Economic Outlook Survey polls CEOs, CFOs, controllers and other CPAs in U.S. companies who hold executive and senior management accounting roles and found increased hiring expectations in the third-quarter poll, tempered by continuing wariness about the U.S. economic outlook.

Last Friday’s monthly jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that current hiring trends are still relatively weak. The AICPA survey, however, serves as a forward-looking indicator of hiring expectations over the next 12 months. Some 15 percent of respondents now say they have too few employees and are planning to hire in the next 12 months, up from 12 percent last quarter and 9 percent a year ago. Another 19 percent say they have too few employees but are reluctant to bring on new staff. 

Some 53 percent of business executives indicated their companies have the right number of employees. The largest companies (those with more than $1 billion in annual revenue) are more likely than other businesses to say they have too few employees. On an industry basis, the construction, technology, and professional, technical and scientific services sectors are expected to post the largest job growth.

“We’ve seen expectations on hiring and business expansion gain steadily throughout the year,” said AICPA senior vice president of management accounting and global markets Arleen R. Thomas in a statement. “Our latest survey results support that but also show some renewed concern about prospects for the U.S. economy.”

The CPA Outlook Index—a comprehensive gauge of executive sentiment within the survey— remains unchanged from last quarter at 69 points. 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.

The survey also found that profit and revenue expectations continued to track upwards in the third quarter, albeit at a modest pace.

Most elements of the index rose modestly or were unchanged. U.S. economic optimism fell four points, in part due to concerns about health care reform and political gridlock.

Expected cost increases in the health care category rose to 6.8 percent, up slightly from the previous quarter and the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2010. 

Organization optimism—how executives feel about their own companies—slid a single point after a steady increase in each of the previous three quarters. Significantly, however, each component of the index is higher now than a year ago, with U.S. economic optimism up 21 points year-over-year, despite this quarter’s dip.