The recruitment crunch: Who’s to blame?by
An increasing number of firms are encountering challenges in their staff recruitment. We spoke to ACCA’s Glenn Collins to find out why.
It’s no secret that the profession has encountered challenges with recruiting in recent months. Even Boris Johnson acknowledged the recruitment shortage issues during last week’s Conservative Party conference.
The Covid-19 pandemic forced many practices to put the brakes on their staff recruitment in order to focus on client demands of furlough and guidance support. However, those who thrived during the past 18 months are now encountering the stumbling blocks that come with growth - their hard work is paying off faster than firms can manage within the current recruitment climate.
A recent AccountingWEB Live webinar saw accountants name resources as one of the main struggles to their current practice growth, with many claiming to be stretched “too thin” by their current workload (and this topic will be the focus of an AccountingWEB Live Expo panel session).
With so many accountants struggling, why is there such difficulty in recruiting the staff firms need?
Struggles to source
The pandemic undoubtedly served as a catalyst for the issue, but ACCA’s head of policy, technical and strategic engagement Glenn Collins has seen firms struggle with recruitment since long before anyone had even heard of Covid-19.
According to Collins, there has been an increase in recent years of employees showing a reluctance to change, with more people questioning whether they wanted the potential of additional responsibility in their work.
On the flipside of this, the people who have the ambition might not have the skills necessary for the roles they want.
“Firms that have had a digital approach actually have a really good involvement and empowerment of their teams, many of them have a back list of candidates coming through that are really high quality,” he said.
Collins explained that the firms that have been less focused on digital implementation are the ones that are likely to be struggling with recruitment, as well as retention of existing team members.
With the opportunities for remote and hybrid working opened up through national lockdowns, people have had the chance to be more selective in their employment; employees can take into account their own personal circumstances and what they're looking for in their future.
“That forward looking sustainable practice is what people are looking for,” said Collins “They're looking to have these qualities demonstrated to them when they're making these moves at work.”
Hanging up the calculator
The headaches of the past 18 months has also seen many in the profession reach the end of their tether, with an increasing number of accountants ready to throw in the towel on their careers after a treadmill furlough workload and in the face of the upcoming MTD changes.
“People are reassessing what they want to do,” said Collins. “Some of the difficulty for practices is reengineering themselves: those that have been successful have made those moves and embedded it within their firms.”
He explained that the firms that have struggled are the ones that have been attempting to tackle that transformation alongside a recruitment and client demand. It’s incredibly difficult to manage changes in your firm alongside the everyday pressures of practice.
“Most practices will have a great vision: they’re business people, they want to succeed, they’re relying on an innovative workforce running through that they can actually utilise, and they know that the client relationship is of the utmost importance.
Even with recent schemes such as Azets’ plans to recruit accountant retirees, there does seem to be a definite stream of people within the profession heading for exit sign.
The recruitment crunch is also largely down to there being less prospective employees with the necessary skills and training to survive in a professional practice.
According to Collins, it’s all about keeping up to date and relevant in the marketplace: “With that, comes the fact that you will be more marketable. Those people with the skills and up-to-date, current knowledge are in greater demand. Those are the ones being picked up.”
The importance of having good financial knowledge, being able to plan for the future, having the skills to risk analyse and look at relevant opportunities, comes at a premium.
If you’re employed or in practice there is a greater demand for this skillset, which has created something of a skill shortage in recent years.
Decrease in accountancy applicants
“There is a flow through from people choosing the profession as an option,” commented Collins.
There are several entry points for accountancy: people coming in as undergraduates, people who are going down an apprenticeship route, and those seeking a career change. During the pandemic, practices might have been hesitant to take on potential employees whose skillset and training weren’t up to scratch with the demands they had to be meeting, Collins explained. This has in turn led to less people being able to learn the necessary skills.
“For example, within some firms certain trainees would have been put on furlough. This means they would have missed out on a period of training and development and everything else where you would have expected to pull them up to. That naturally would have an impact running through.”
He added that if firms want those skills coming through, they have to ask how they intend to give employees that vision. So, how do you help them navigate their future career?
On the plus side, the pandemic also sped up the process of moving towards a remote working world, with firms looking beyond geographical boundaries in their recruitment.
“There are some real great opportunities out there for people, particularly if you look outside of what is the norm. If you ask what do I need? What is essential to me? If you highlight that through to your potential employers, that’s all the more positive.”
Glenn Collins will be speaking at the first day of our AccountingWEB Live Expo this December. Don't miss out - register now for free access to all our panels and conferences.