Competing for future skills in the accountancy sector
Like many other industries, competing for future skills in the accountancy sector will be challenging.
The ongoing pandemic, along with technological advances, is changing how we do business at an ever-increasing pace; they are affecting the way our clients want to interact with us and also how our employees perceive us.
Accountancy firms are coming under increasing pressure from clients to expand and diversify their service offering with an evolving requirement for broader business advice and consultancy. This change in requirements is creating uncertainty within the sector regarding the required skillset of tomorrow’s accountants.
Whilst the need for traditional accountancy principles and knowledge are sure to remain, how do accountancy businesses identify what future skills they will need? Do accountancy firms look to combine traditional accountancy and future technology skills to create hybrid employees, or differentiate the skill sets and form departments that collaborate to create solutions?
As importantly, how do accountancy firms then go about competing for those skills moving forwards? Identifying and acquiring talent for your core skill sets is difficult enough. Expanding out to, and attracting different and rapidly evolving skill sets from other, highly competitive sectors will only intensify the challenge.
Evolving skill sets and changing needs
According to the Financial Services Skills Commission (FSSC) in their Skills For Future Success report of June 2021, “approximately 80% of UK business leaders say that investment in digital skills will be needed to help the post-pandemic recovery.”
The advancement of technology in the workplace was already progressing extremely quickly, but the pandemic has only served to accelerate it.
With businesses changing the way that they interact with suppliers and customers due to more remote working, digital and technology skills have become even more key for employers.
In accountancy and audit, the FSSC reported that “demand for Python (a general-purpose programming language) grew by over 1000% since 2014”.
The challenges, therefore, are clear. For the Big 4, and other larger-scale businesses, customer demand is determining a need for diversity in terms of the service and advice required and changing the skill sets required of a traditional accountancy business.
The results would suggest that the bigger accountancy organisations will likely have structured their businesses to accommodate IT software and development departments, allowing bespoke solutions to be developed and delivered in-house rather than outsourcing.
Such organisations are likely to experience less difficulty attracting IT and tech talent due to their profiles and big-city HQs. However, there may still be challenges where they come into competition with ultra-modern, tech companies with their relaxed and flexible working cultures.
For smaller firms, however, the challenges become far more significant. It would appear that they are going to have to be extremely innovative if they are going to remain competitive in the battle for future skills.
Diversification and specialisms
For smaller to medium-sized accountancy businesses, the challenges presented by future skills could well come down to strategies based on diversification or specialism.
Cloud accounting is fast becoming an everyday part of the business accounting process, making it impossible to ignore the influence and need for technology and digital skills.
However, according to the FSSC’s report, “this growing need for technology and data specialists is at odds with current education choices. A study by the Learning and Work Institute found that the number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE level has fallen by 40% since 2015. The study also found that across the economy, less than half of UK employers believe new entrants to the workforce are arriving with the necessary digital skills.”
It may be necessary, therefore, for accountancy firms to focus on becoming specialists in certain fields or sectors rather than trying to compete for skills in a sector that is already exceptionally competitive.
For example, there is already an established accounting sector in the supply of payroll and accountancy support for the temp recruitment industry, otherwise known as the Umbrella sector. Other practices have focussed on becoming industry specialists for sectors such as agricultural or hospitality.
So whether it’s a taxation professional or a person adept at working in the agricultural sector, accountancy firms can employ skills to strengthen or expand specialist expertise without diverting too far from their core capabilities.
Differentiating as an employer
Along with the challenge of finding the right future skills, accountancy businesses will also have to contend with the ongoing, and ever more competitive war for talent.
Attracting and retaining talent in the accountancy sector is already difficult enough, especially for businesses that lack the big profile and big city HQs of the Big 4. But all is not lost. Smaller, more flexible businesses will have the opportunities to snare top talent as long as they think creatively and act smartly.
In our Happiness at work survey – 2021, conducted earlier this year, almost half of all accountancy employees surveyed stated that it was important to them to work for a company that had strong core values and took its corporate and social responsibilities seriously.
Over half of those accountancy employees surveyed also said that working for a business that prioritised employee wellbeing was more important than earning a higher salary. With the continuing impact of the pandemic on employee mental health, these trends are only likely to increase.
These points imply that it’s not necessarily the higher salary and plush office environment that will influence employees’ job decisions in future. Moreso, it will be a balance of package, flexibility, wellbeing and values.
Those businesses that can create, and more importantly demonstrate, an employee centric, value-driven, diverse and inclusive culture will stand every chance of competing for and securing the talent of the future.
Research and reports appear to confirm that future skills in our sector are evolving and changing. As a specialist recruitment supplier to the accountancy sector, Public Practice Recruitment is also observing these subtle but clear changes.
To help our clients attract and retain talent in this evolving and competitive sector, we’re providing all of the evidence and advice we can on how to best position and structure your business to attract and retain the best talent.
Whether it’s diversification or differentiation, or both, accountancy businesses need to evolve to meet the challenges in our evolving industry.
Found this interesting? Why not read the accountancy firm’s guide to employee value propositions to find out how to attract and retain talent.
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Call Public Practice Recruitment Ltd today on 03335 777 787 to discover how we can support you.