The survey released Friday by the big Canadian bank says 73 per cent of Canadian business are confident looking ahead to 2013 and nearly one in four plan to increase the size of their workforce.
In fact, taking on new staff is a priority second only to upgrading and purchasing equipment, according to BMO's Hiring Outlook Report.
Unfortunately, businesses that participated in the poll said the No. 1 one challenge they face is finding and retaining talented employees.
Nearly half of all Canadian businesses surveyed — 47 per cent — said it now is more difficult to attract talented employees than before the economic downturn
Manufacturers in particular — 60 per cent — indicated that hiring talented people has become more difficult, while 58 per cent of retailers said retaining talented employees has become harder since the recession.
Alberta businesses are the most likely to say it's difficult to attract talented employees (63 per cent), while those in Alberta and elsewhere on the Prairies are most likely to say retaining employees is the most difficult challenge (51 per cent).
With the Canadian unemployment rate half a percentage point lower than the U.S. rate and four percentage points lower than the eurozone rate "Canadian job security is fairly good," BMO senior economist Sal Guatieri said in a comment accompanying the survey.
"The resource-driven provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan will continue to offer the best job prospects in 2013, with unemployment rates below five per cent," Guatieri added.
Steve Murphy, senior vice-president, commercial banking, said the stage has been set over the past year as "an increasing number of Canadian companies have made strategic investments to upgrade technology and processes, open up new markets and invest in people."
"As the economy recovers, businesses are looking to become as productive as possible, and that may mean taking advantage of historically low interest rates to finance their growth plans and upgrade their talent pool," he said.
Among other findings of the survey:
— Large companies are twice as likely as small businesses to be planning to hire more employees (45 per cent versus 22 per cent).
— Some 71 per cent of Canadian businesses plan to maintain current staffing levels next year and only four per cent plan to shed employees.
— Compared with 2011, among those companies that plan to invest more in their business in 2013, 48 per cent plan to hire more employees, an increase of nine percentage points from last year.
Intentions to grow the workforce are roughly similar coast to coast with the exception of Quebec, where just 17 per cent of businesses plan to hire more employees next year.
The figure was 26 per cent in Atlantic Canada, 24 per cent in Ontario, 25 per cent in the Prairie provinces and 27 per cent in British Columbia.
The percentage of companies planning to reduce their workforce was five per cent in Atlantic Canada, three per cent in Quebec, four per cent in Ontario, one per cent in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and five per cent in Albert and British Columbia.
Meanwhile, the survey also found that small companies were more likely than large companies (24 per cent versus 20 per cent) to turn to contract employees for new hires.
On the other hand, large companies were more likely than small companies (44 per cent versus 20 per cent) to focus on hiring for junior positions.
The telephone survey was conducted by Polar Strategic Insights between Aug. 13 and Sept. 5, using a sample of 500 Canadian business owners. Results carry a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points 19 times out of 20.