WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. job openings surged to a record high in March, suggesting that a recent slowdown in hiring was probably the result of employers having difficulties finding qualified workers.

A man looks over employment opportunities at a jobs center in San Francisco, California, U.S, February 4, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith/Files

The monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, released by the Labor Department on Tuesday also showed more workers voluntarily quit their jobs in March, a sign of confidence in the labor market that economists believe will help to push up wage growth this year.

The JOLTS report bolsters expectations that inflation will accelerate and keep the Federal Reserve on track to raise interest rates at least two more times this year. The U.S. central bank hiked interest rates in March.

“The labor market is hot and getting hotter by the day so central bankers need to continue to take the punch bowl away because higher wages and greater inflation are on the way,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

Job openings, a measure of labor demand, increased by 472,000 to a seasonally adjusted 6.6 million. March's job openings were the highest since the data series started in December 2000. For a graphic see: reut.rs/2K3daHP

The job openings rate rose three-tenths of a percentage point to 4.2 percent, also an all-time high. But hiring fell to 5.4 million from 5.5 million in February, suggesting a skills mismatch. Job growth slowed in March and April after increasing by the most in more than 1-1/2 years in February.

The skills mismatch was also corroborated by an NFIB survey on Tuesday showing lack of qualified workers as “the single most important problem” for a fifth of small

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