The latest RICS Construction Market Survey showed overall workloads improved during the first three months of the year moving to a net balance of +6 from -5 in the previous quarter.
The improvement was down to a dramatic rise in activity seen by the private sector, with 17% more surveyors reporting workloads in commercial construction rose rather than fell.
The private housing sector also saw a hike in activity, moving to a net balance of +8 from -10.
The survey showed stark regional differences with the North/South divide widening.
London and the South East reported the strongest figures, with a net balance of +24, whereas Northern Ireland recorded the largest falls in activity with a reading of -68.
Material costs continued to rise, with 62% more surveyors reporting a hike in prices, up from 56% during the previous three months.
The cost of workers continued to slip, reflecting increased competition for jobs, which is driving down the cost of labour.
Looking ahead, surveyors revealed that the market remains competitive but are positive about future job prospects, for the first time since Q1 2008, with 5% more respondents expecting employment levels to rise rather than fall over the next 12 months.
Surveyors were similarly upbeat with predictions for workloads, at a net balance at +18, the best reading in three years.
RICS Chief Economist, Simon Rubinsohn said: “We are particularly encouraged by the indications that the private sector is not only seeing an increase in workloads but planning to raise employment.
“With impending public spending cuts, the construction industry is still likely to face significant challenges over the next twelve to eighteen months, but our latest results do provide a chink of light that things are beginning to get better.”