THOUSANDS of jobs are to be created across Scotland during the next year as business bosses go on recruitment drives in the latest encouraging sign of confidence returning to the country's economy.
The owners of small and medium sized firms are so sure of attracting new orders that more than two-fifths say they intend to recruit more staff in 2014.
The boost comes weeks after the most recent set of employment figures revealed that the total number of people out of work in Scotland had fallen by 7000 to 196,000.
There is also more chance of people being in employment north of the Border than in England or Wales or Northern Ireland.
A Clydesdale Bank poll of business customers found 43% of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) said they intended to recruit staff in the new year.
Bosses who plan to create jobs said they expect to increase staff numbers by almost 9%.
Scotland's 326,000 SMEs plan to recruit almost 4% more staff.
It equals 40,000 new jobs if this was applied to the sector, which employs more than one million people.
Finance Secretary John Swinney hailed the survey as the latest in a series of crucial indicators, from the jobs statistics to wider economic surveys, to suggest that 2014 will see the recovery begin to make an impact.
He said the survey showed "strong grounds for optimism" with "signals that the Scottish economy is likely to strengthen further in the next 12 months".
He added: "This research shows continued improvement in Scottish job market conditions.
"2013 has seen significant improvements for the job market in Scotland and recent figures show Scotland has a higher employment rate, lower unemployment rate and lower inactivity rate than England, Wales or Northern Ireland."
Mr Swinney said 2013 had seen improvements across a range of economic indicators, with the economy expanding for four consecutive quarters, further increases in employment, and unemployment and economic inactivity continuing to fall.
He added: "There are strong grounds for optimism, and there are signals that the Scottish economy is likely to strengthen further in the next 12 months, with recent economic data indicating that the economy as a whole will return to pre-recession levels in 2014.
"Consistent growth in employment shows that the policies of the Scottish Government to create jobs and boost the economy are making progress."
Colin Borland, of the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, said: "These encouraging figures broadly accord with what our members are telling us. 2014 looks to be the year when more small businesses will get hiring and create the extra private sector jobs our economy needs.
"With business confidence building, more firms reporting increased profits and investment plans being firmed up, it seems we're laying the foundations for a sustained, investment-led recovery."
He added: "But we are not out of the woods yet and this report rightly highlights that the picture varies from sector to sector."
The survey found that while the majority of UK businesses (58%) do not intend to create jobs, only 2% fear they may still shed more staff suggesting the economic squeeze is loosening its grip.
The recruitment intentions uncovered by the research were supported by significant investment plans.
A third of Scottish SMEs questioned said they would spend additional money on new staff over the next year.
The survey of 818 middle and senior managers found across the UK, on average, Britain's 4.9 million SMEs expect to recruit 2.9% more staff. It equals 417,000 new jobs if it is applied to Britain's total workforce of 14.4 million in the sector.
Alastair Christmas of Clydesdale Bank said: "As the UK economic outlook continues to improve, we are starting to see a positive impact on recruitment plans. Increasing staff numbers can help businesses to boost productivity and competitiveness, and allow expansion into new markets as capacity grows.
"Creating new jobs is also good for the economy as a whole. While our research suggests that many businesses are becoming more confident about investing in their future, it is important that we recognise there remain considerable challenges to growth."