Small business owners were hiring in March — and upping compensation, too, to remain competitive in a tight labor market. In fact, according to the National Federation of Independent Business’ March jobs report, the dearth of qualified applicants is becoming an issue

“The post-election optimism we’ve seen among small business owners has led to more job openings, but small employers are struggling to find qualified applicants,” said NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan.

Small business owners reported a seasonally adjusted average employment change of 0.16 workers per firm. Fifty-one percent reported hiring or trying to hire, but 45 percent reported that there were few or no qualified applicants to fill open positions.

Sixteen percent of owners cited finding qualified workers as their single most important business problem.

“The current labor market is one of the tightest I have seen in the 43-year history of NFIB’s survey,” said NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “The scarcity of qualified applicants continues to frustrate small business. They often have to compete with larger corporations which have more resources to attract employees.”

Almost a third of small employers reported job openings that they could not fill in the current period. A net 28 percent of owners reported raising workers’ compensation, the second highest reading observed since mid-2007.

Owners still showed confidence in future business conditions as a seasonally adjusted 16 percent reported plans to hire.