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Where Did the Staff Go?

27th Apr 2016
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The profession seems to be suffering from possibly unprecedented staff shortages that are holding back growth and putting all concerned under pressure.

Through what is becoming a long career in the accountancy business, there have intermittently been concerns about what would happen if the current firm landed every open pitch or a marketing strategy hit the jackpot.

The issue was staffing. While the firm had more than enough people to do the work in hand and deal with reasonable growth, if an extra few million pounds of business arrived, they would drown.

The cynical answer was that this was never likely to happen and, if it did, that would be a wonderful problem to have, which could be resolved by strategic recruitment albeit carried out in a hurry.

Over the last few weeks, your correspondent has informally discussed the state of the (accountancy) nation with a variety of peers running everything from small practices to some of the largest.

In almost every case, they have bemoaned the difficulty in recruiting staff at every level as an almost insuperable stumbling block to greater success.

It may be that this is merely a London problem, fuelled by the inability of potential employees to find accommodation that they can afford. However, it is more likely that there is a nationwide shortage of accountants and trainees.

It is one of life’s ironies that the country is boasting the highest employment levels for a generation, in part aided by an influx of millions of immigrants from Europe and elsewhere at a time when accountancy practices are struggling to recruit professional staff, even though they almost certainly pay far more than the average business.

With employment numbers down, those that are left often have to work much harder than they would like, in some cases potentially putting their careers at risk through exam failure. This exacerbates the staffing problem, since many will become disgruntled and then move on (possibly out of the profession) much more quickly than they might have done in the past.

Even signing up graduates and school leavers seems to be difficult, despite the fact that the word on the street suggests these groups often go straight into unemployment having completed their extended educational careers.

The recession may be partly to blame for problems at more senior levels, since most firms cut back on recruitment following the 2008 slump meaning that fewer newly qualifieds came through leaving gaps at junior management levels today.

A general shortage across the board means that those lower down the pecking order will always struggle. The Big Four will generally get their pick both as a result of reputation and their willingness to pay higher salaries, the mid-tier will find that much harder and so on down to the poor old sole practitioner, who might be feeling very lonely at the moment.

If Britain does vote to leave Europe and immediately starts to send those millions back where they came from, things are only going to get worse.

What is the solution? In the short term, paying more is probably the only way to get the staff that firms need. Looking further ahead, the profession should be seeking to increase levels of recruitment bringing more graduates and school leavers into the trade as an investment for the future.

In any event, as with everything other aspect of life at the moment we might have to wait until after that referendum before this knotty problem can even be considered, let alone addressed seriously.

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By FirstTab
27th Apr 2016 21:52

Consistent with micro level view

Your well-written blog is consistent with my experience. My recent micro level blogs reflect what you say. For a small practice to get the right people is not easy. I could not match the salaries offered by bigger practices. 

What I conveyed to my potential employees is the varied experience, responsibilty and autonomy they would get if they decided to join my micro practice. To this, I added, my time in supporting them to further their career. It was a difficult sell. It worked. 

I know they will leave once they have gained the required higher experience. My intention is to make their work environment pleasant. A place where they feel valued and a place they love to work, making it difficult for them to leave.  

Without the right people, I am a dead duck.  My current two, are just right. 

 

 

 

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