Despite an upturn in hiring plans, small-business owners with job vacancies last month were finding few qualified workers, the National Federation of Independent Business reported Tuesday.

In a survey of its 600,000 members, 57 percent of respondents said they hired or tried to hire new workers in September, the Washington-based advocacy group said. Of those, 84 percent reported finding few or no qualified applicants. Typically, about a quarter of the group's members respond to the monthly surveys.

While 13 percent of these smaller employers hired an average 3.7 new workers per firm, the gains were offset by 14 percent that reduced employment by roughly the same amount. In total, some 25 percent of respondents closed September with unfilled job openings, unchanged from August, the report said.