In the first quarter of 2013, private company executives’ optimism about the 12-month prospects for the U.S. economy rose eight points, according to PwC US’s Private Company Trendsetter Barometer. Fifty percent of executives expressed optimism, while only 11% were pessimistic, down from 18% the prior quarter. Optimism about the world economy also climbed, up 12 points to 37%, reaching its highest level since the second quarter of 2011 as the gap between pessimists and optimists widened.

Another positive indicator is that for the second consecutive quarter, private companies reported an increase in planned total composite workforce hiring — 3.4%, up from 2.8% in the prior quarter and well above a year ago when it was 1.8%. This quarter’s planned composite workforce increase is the highest since the third quarter of 2008.

Overall, 52% of private companies plan to hire in the next 12 months. Of those companies, 33% are looking primarily for trained professionals in areas such as technology/engineering, business/finance and sales/marketing, and nearly as many (28%) say that a lack of qualified workers is a potential barrier to growth.

“Private companies are fueling the job creation that is needed to create a positive force in the economy,” says Ken Esch, a partner with PwC’s Private Company Services practice. “It’s encouraging to see their commitment to increasing headcount as they scale their businesses for further growth. Significant time out of the workforce has eroded skillsets for some workers, so it’s understandable that private companies see a lack of qualified talent as a significant headwind. An increasing number of them are addressing this issue by retraining new employees to bring them up to speed.”

To see the full PwC report, click here.