NORTH BAY – While staffing agencies have reported tepid confidence among employers through the first three quarters of this year, the fourth quarter looks to yield significantly more hires as executives express a greater need for employees and a harder time recruiting them, according to a Robert Half International survey.

The Professional Employment Report, a survey of more than 4,000 C-level executives nationwide, indicates strong growth in the fourth quarter in numerous fields, particularly in business services, legal and accounting and finance.

Nationwide, a net 6 percent of executives are planning to increase staffing levels in the professional sector in Q4 – a three point increase from last quarter – with law firms leading the way as a net 23 percent of attorneys said they expected to increase staff.

Although North Bay specifics are not contained within the report, Robert Half Regional Vice President Michael Lusby said growth in the region is expected and reflective of the Pacific Region, where a net 7 percent of hiring managers expect an increase in staffing levels – the second highest in the nation behind the South Atlantic region.

“The indication is we’re going to move in a positive direction,” Mr. Lusby said. “The increase in multiple sectors is a good indication.”

Some of those industries in the North Bay, Mr. Lusby said, are the business services sector, which includes advertising and marketing; financial institutions; and law firms.

The health care sector, already one of the top industries in the North Bay, is experiencing growth, too.

“The trend with health care organizations is under finance and operations,” Mr. Lusby said.

Perhaps more surprising, executives said recruitment was increasingly becoming more difficult, despite the perception that highly qualified workers were willing to take the first offer or possibly even settle for a position they were over-qualified for during the height of the recession.

“That was surprising, but it’s a good sign,” Mr. Lusby said. “We’re starting to see more people get offers.” And with more offers, prospective employees are better positioned to make more favorable counter offers.

Nationwide, 47 percent of executives interviewed said recruitment was “at least somewhat challenging to find skilled professionals,” a 5 percent increase over Q3, according to the report.

That number jumps to 61 percent within in the business services sector, which is second only to the legal field in expected staffing increases. Marketing and advertising executives expect the biggest challenge in recruitment, with 54 percent indicating it will be difficult to recruit candidates – a 9 percent increase from the third quarter.

Marketing and advertising executives also expressed the greatest confidence regarding growth, with 93 percent feeling “at least somewhat confident,” according to the report.

That’s at least in part because of a significant push for social media specialists, now seen as vital to marketing with the proliferation of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media sites, the report said.

In the legal field, particularly law firms, the still-teetering economic landscape has created a need for more staff, particularly  in areas of litigation, bankruptcy and foreclosure law, contracts and licensing and intellectual property.

Law firms are in need of paralegals, associates, clerks and attorneys due to an increase in litigation and disputes in employment and labor law, insurance defense and commercial litigation, as well as lawyers to “guide clients through complex commercial and residential foreclosure matters,” the report said.

“During a downturn, it’s that mid-tier level of employees that falls into space,” Mr. Lusby said.

Still other industries expect growth, with a net 1 percent of accounting and finance executives anticipating growth – the first projected increase in two years, the report said.

To view the full report, go to www.roberthalf.us/per.