PORTLAND, Maine — The employment picture in Maine appears to be strengthening and companies may want to start thinking about recruiting and retaining employees, according to some front-line experts.

Ed McKersie, founder and president of Pro Search Inc., a Portland-based recruiting and employment firm, said his company had its best year yet for recruiting in 2011. People in the 25-45 age range with four-year degrees and strong accounting or technical backgrounds were particularly in demand, he said.

The job market, he said, is “pretty good and improving.”

“Most of the companies we talk to have put off hiring as long as they can; they are now cautiously optimistic,” said McKersie.

Kristine Avery, senior vice president of human resources at FISC Solutions in Lewiston and the state director for the Society for Human Resource Management’s Maine State Council, noted that both national and state unemployment rates were trending down. Unemployment in Maine in March was at 7.2 percent; nationwide it was 8.2 percent.

There’s a thawing of the job market, Avery said.

“With the economy strengthening, employees are more willing to make the change from one employer to another employer. They’re not as scared or nervous to make that move, in terms of job security,” said Avery.

McKersie and Avery suggested that a Society for Human Resource Management-sponsored competition, the Best Places to Work in Maine contest, now in its seventh year, is a good way for employers to recruit and retain employees.

Each company’s application to the contest is scored on two different broad areas. According to Avery, 25 percent of the score is based on what the employer sends in detailing employee programs, benefits, policies, strategic human resource practices and other factors.

But 75 percent is based on what a company’s employees say about their employer in a confidential, anonymous survey.

“It’s invaluable to receive the ongoing feedback so you can make improvements in the workplace environment and the programs you offer,” said Avery.

Improving the workplace can help keep employees happy and with a company, Avery said.

Her company, FISC Solutions, ranked eighth last year in the Best Places to Work competition’s small-to-medium category. She said 70 companies registered for the contest and a total of 40 were named best places.

FISC used the employee surveys to work on problems identified by the work force. The company has invested more in employee training and development, Avery said, and has improved benefits for part-time workers.

FISC also has increased the ways it communicates with employees, including a television in the break room that runs company photos, recognition, news and other information.

McKersie said a common theme in the employee surveys is that workers don’t necessarily complain about compensation but often are unhappy with the lack of communication from company leaders.

“When things are going well, if you as an employee don’t have a lot of information, it’s not a big deal,” said McKersie. “When they’re not going well, the rumor mill is usually much worse than the reality. Companies need to be direct, communicate consistently and honestly.”

Companies have until May 25 to register for this year’s contest. Visit www.bestplacestoworkme.com for information.