UK employers are hiring staff at the fastest rate since before the financial crash, according to latest reports.

Published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), its Spring 2014 Labour Market Outlook showed the employment balance has increased by 26 points.

This is up from 16 points in the Winter 2013-2014 report, bringing employment to its highest level since autumn 2007.

The CIPD said the relatively large swing is largely due to an increase in confidence in the services sector.

The Labour Market Outlook measures the difference between small and medium-sized employers (SMEs) that are planning to hire staff versus those making cuts.

The quarterly survey is based on responses from 1,026 employers, many of whom are drawn from the CIPD’s membership of more than 130,000 professionals.

It precedes official employment figures, due to be published on Monday (19 May 2014), with analysts predicting a fall in the unemployment rate from 8% last year to 6.8%.

Additionally, the report forecasts more organisations are planning to invest in their talent pipeline than previously, with around three in 10 (31%) intending to hire more UK graduates. One in five organisations (22%) plan to hire more apprentices, compared with 16% which say that their organisation has already set up apprenticeships. Half of employers plan to upskill existing staff.

The report also showed the employment outlook was positive for all UK regions and countries. Confidence levels were highest in the south of England and lowest in the north of England (+13). Additionally, SME employers are significantly more positive about their employment prospects (+52) than large employers (+11).

The CIPD added the data suggested employment prospects would continue to improve in all sectors of the economy in the second quarter of 2014.