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How to tackle the accounting recruitment crisis
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How to tackle the accounting recruitment crisis

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So, what can accountants do to attract the best talent and convince more job hunters to apply for roles with them? In this article, we give you our take.

 

7th Aug 2023
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There’s a crisis in the accounting sector. You’ll have read that a lot, often backed up by anecdotal evidence from accountants and other financial professionals about how the talent market has dried up and no one wants to apply for work with them. 

But at Bright, we’ve been doing some digging to find out just how bad the talent shortage really is. To do that, we analysed the number of accounting vacancies in major cities around the UK and compared them to online interest in accounting jobs in the local area. The results: many firms outside of London are struggling to generate interest in the vacancies available. 

To explain, we found that London accounting firms were advertising 5,810 vacancies, while monthly online searches for equivalent roles totalled on average 57,200 searches. That’s around 10 potential candidates per job — not bad. 

However, there were 2,884 vacancies but only 5,840 looking for equivalent roles in Manchester; and Nottingham, with just over 1,400 roles advertised, saw 3,227 searches a month. That means that there are, on average, just two potential applicants for every accounting role in these cities. 

Liverpool, Leeds, Brighton and Sheffield all ranked lowest after Manchester and Nottingham, with an average of three job hunters per role — less than half of the national average of seven. 

So, what should you do about it?

Shed the ‘boring’ tag

Accountancy is satisfying. It’s about helping people. It’s an important factor in the success of the wider economy. And it doesn’t hurt that it pays well. But it’s far from sexy — and that might be part of what’s holding it back.

To explain, let’s go back to Manchester and Nottingham. There, as Justin Kyriajou, regional director of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), pointed out, a lot of firms focus on audit work. 

Now, audits are essential to larger businesses and interesting in their own way — but do we really expect the younger generations to be fighting for a trainee position as an auditor? Kyriajou doesn’t think so. He said that audit work “is no longer seen as something younger recruits want to do”. 

Why is that? Quite simply the accounting sector hasn’t managed to shake the ‘boring’ tag that has long been associated with it. 

When looking at the recruitment crisis through that lens, you realise that the problem might not be that accounting is a difficult market, but that accounting firms need to change the narrative to make what they’re doing appeal to more candidates

To change the narrative, accountants primarily need to work on their branding. The days of the generic, one-page website from the mid-2000s are over. Instead, it needs to be full of character and personality that captures the reader’s imagination and gets them excited about your firm (potential candidates judge you on your website, mark our words!).

But evocative copywriting, bright colours and inclusive imagery are just the icing on the cake. You need to demonstrate that you have a mission in mind that graduates can get behind — whether that’s empowering small businesses, helping the biggest companies make waves in the economy or something like a commitment to net zero. 

Above all, demonstrate how your firm is making a difference in the world — the younger generations yearn for jobs with purpose, after all.

Promote a work culture that younger generations want to be part of

Work used to be something you did for financial security. But while people will always judge a potential role on the salary attached, the mood has shifted. Now, many people want — and expect — a company that they don’t just work for but that they feel comfortable and happy in. That manifests in a number of ways, from team lunches to Christmas parties and novel ideas like office therapy dogs. 

This approach to running the workplace has been around for a number of years now, but the latest changes — working from home and flexible hours — are just as important to the modern worker. After all, this style of working gives people back more time and money which they would otherwise have wasted commuting. 

Kyriakou thinks these phenomena are part of the reason firms in big cities are struggling to recruit. He said: “Smaller cities and towns that offer recruits the opportunity to work from home but also live in a pleasant environment seem to have a much greater pull, according to ICAEW feedback”.

But it’s not just about creating a comfortable working environment where you forgo the business suits and ties, and arrange fun team events and evenings. It’s also about the work itself. 

“Recruits are also drawn to smaller practices where they feel they can have an impact, particularly in areas of social responsibility,” Kyriakou said.

So, meaningful work, opportunities to learn and grow, greater responsibility — it all helps candidates feel like the time they will commit to your firm is worth it for their career development.

Technology can lead to more interesting work

It’s not just the demand for greater flexibility and community in the workplace that has changed accountancy — technology has too. 

Specifically, the jobs of accountants have changed because of automation tools and, most recently, AI. 

Ben Bishop, our chief technology and product officer, said, “The days of the traditional number cruncher buried in Excel spreadsheets are becoming much less relevant because there are tools that will help do that for you. 

“Instead, you need people experienced with a blend of technology and customer focus — and expanding your search into these areas could help you cope with the recruitment crisis and change the way your practice engages with clients,” he continued.

Then there’s the fact that technology can help you handle mounting workloads while you’re waiting for new talent to come in. With specialised software, you can automate mundane tasks to increase your capacity and remove low/no margin, repetitive work.

And who knows? Maybe technology will also attract aspiring accountants who see innovation in practice as a foil to the tedium previous generations had to deal with as they learned the ropes. After all, software will also free up their time and help them get started with more valuable and interesting work such as business advisory or financial analysis at your firm.

Bright Software Group provides a variety of solutions for accountancy, payroll, tax and practice management through its cutting-edge technology. Want to find out more? Get in touch at brightsg.com 

Replies (4)

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By Hugo Fair
07th Aug 2023 20:47

1. If you're going to use statistics to make a point, then it's as well to understand what they actually say. For instance:
"we found that London accounting firms were advertising 5,810 vacancies, while monthly online searches for equivalent roles totalled on average 57,200 searches.
That’s around 10 potential candidates per job — not bad."

It doesn't take a genius (or someone bright!) to realise that most job-hunters will make a lot more than ONE online search ... so there may not even be 1 'potential candidate per job'.

2. The recruiting 'crisis' (or difficulty as those who are not journalists refer to it) is not primarily about sheer volumes ... it's all about the lack of SUITABLE applicants (in sufficient quantities).

Whether the required suitability relates to qualifications or experience or even mere attitude (and that magical ingredient - aptitude) is a different matter ... about which there have been several other articles already.

Thanks (4)
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By norstar
08th Aug 2023 12:13

Not sure about "Accountancy is satisfying". If I had my time over, I wouldn't go into public practice again.

I've had enough of dealing with HMRC - now totally unaccountable and uncooperative. Tax laws are clunky and we face more deadlines than ever- all with threat of fines if you're late by even a day. Meanwhile HMRC can not reply to a letter or register you for VAT for a year and get away with it.

Clients are increasingly demanding and now have email on their phones - so they don't read anything but will fire back a one-liner as though it's "instant chat". Or they will ignore various reminders and communications that you send and eventually you'll find out that they did their own return because they've seen how to do it on Youtube - but couldn't be bothered to tell you.

Then there's doing your best but having your beloved professional association come swooping down constantly to criticize your approach to dealing with the anti-money laundering regs, Audit compliance, CPD requirements, approved employer status - all the while the chap down the road is left completely alone or is unregulated.

Nah thanks. Pay is good, job satisfaction pretty low these days if I'm honest.

Thanks (3)
Replying to norstar:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
08th Aug 2023 17:37

Would industry feel better, that is the question, or is chasing numbers around a spreadsheet in any role an awful prospect?

That Lion Tamer or Lumberjack option now starts to look pretty attractive.

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By Xaccountant
09th Aug 2023 11:39

Disagree with you. It is recruiting agents who are jobless and working as self employed. So , one job is being advertised by 10 recruiting agent. At the end , your calculation works the other way: it is 10 or 20 jobless accountant looking for one low paid job. You must have read that migration was 600k last year. So, there was no dependent accountant among them? I am jobless and looking for a long term job for a while. And I started working when lots of young accountants were born: yes 25 years plus experience and still looking for jobs nationwide !

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