If you’re thinking about a career in accountancy and finance, then you could not have picked a better time. Employers are finding it difficult to hire the right people with the right skills to help their companies grow and evolve to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing business world.
The finance department, or finance function, has become increasingly important in helping businesses transform from using older operating practices to newer, more technologically advanced and efficient methods.
‘Businesses are looking to address the productivity challenge by finding efficiencies to maximise profits,’ says Phil Sheridan, senior managing director at finance recruitment specialists Robert Half UK. ‘The finance function is central to achieving this goal and, as such, is required to perform more of a business partnering role alongside meeting operational finance objectives. Business leaders are relying on their finance teams to interpret the data and turn them into actionable insights to inform decision making. With the multiple uncertainties that businesses are operating in today, financial modelling, forecasting and analysis are increasing in demand.’
So what’s the problem?
But the problem businesses and organisations are facing is that they can’t adapt quickly enough. They’re struggling to find the people with the skills needed to drive change and provide the forward-looking financial intelligence. This means there is a huge opportunity for people to enter the profession having already gained the necessary skills or who can prove they’re actively trying to gain them.
‘According to our Hays UK Salary and Recruiting trends 2017 guide, 23% of accountancy and finance employers felt their organisations did not have the talent needed to achieve their current business objectives. Further to this, 75% of employers also believe their top challenge when recruiting will be a shortage of suitable applicants,’ says Karen Young, director at recruiters Hays Accountancy & Finance. ‘Skills shortages will continue to cause concern regardless of the economic conditions, so employers will need to review the speed and agility of their hiring process so as not to lose out on the talented individuals they need.’
Which skills are in short supply?
As skill shortages remain critical, it is important for individuals to take some responsibility for developing their skills, continues Young. ‘Many accountancy and finance professionals are unaware of the gaps that exist and therefore are not doing enough to improve their skills. The first step would be to identify where these capability gaps are. The largest acquired skills gaps for new entrants in finance are compliance and legislative framework, technical knowledge and commercial awareness. For those in mid-level positions, the main focus should be on improving literacy, technical knowledge and IT and systems understanding. Those in leadership and management roles will need to improve acquired skills in IT and systems understanding and technical knowledge in order to reduce the capability gaps at this level.’
Furthermore, finance leaders are realising the benefits of digitising the finance function to support the need for data analysis and are adopting financial technologies to support this, says Sheridan. ‘For students and junior accountants, the best approach to take is adopting the concept of lifelong learning as a way of keeping their skills current, relevant and in demand.
‘Another key area where junior accountants can upskill is their interpersonal, communication and leadership skills. As finance and accounting professionals are needing to communicate more with business stakeholders, being able to effectively communicate in a way that their stakeholders will understand and relate to will be an important factor for success.’
Will upskilling be rewarded?
And if you do make the effort to gain these skills, you will be well rewarded. With employers becoming increasingly aware of the skills shortage, they’re adapting their attraction and retention strategies accordingly. ‘In our research, we’ve found nine in 10 CFOs admit challenges in finding skilled accounting and finance professionals in the UK,’ says Sheridan. ‘At the same time, 87% of CFOs and finance directors are concerned about losing top performers to competitors.
‘Hiring managers are having to consider the full package that they are offering potential new hires, including competitive salaries, work-life balance, training and development, and a positive working environment.
‘Employers are expected to come under more pressure to increase pay and provide clearer career paths in the next year,’ says Young. ‘They will need to review their reward and benefit packages and look at other ways, aside from salary, to attract the talented individuals they are looking for.’
What are the specific skills that are in short supply?
- financial modelling
- business partnering abilities/commerciality
- knowledge of IFRS/FRS 101/FRS 102
- strong systems knowledge (ERP) or advanced Excel
- part-qualified/qualified ACCA professionals with fewer than five years’ experience
- contract and bid management/contract mobilisation skills
- stakeholder management and communications skills
- communication, interpersonal and presentation skills
- problem-solving and organisational skills