How to solve the finance talent dilemma

How to solve the finance talent dilemma

Matt Weston, Managing Director of Robert Half UK, examines the current talent dilemma in finance departments across the country and what can be done to retain top-tier talent.

How to solve the finance talent dilemma

The jobs market for finance professionals in 2019 is strong, with employment rates at record highs.  The market is set to intensify in 2020 with the growing “war for talent” – where employers compete more aggressively to attract professionals with highly-sought after skillsets.

In response to these circumstances, Robert Half’s 2020 Salary Guide revealed that the employment market is in need of adaptability and resilience, with change being the only constant in today’s climate.

This comes at a time when the growing skills gap has made its presence felt in finance departments. As a result, employers are seeking accounting professionals with skillsets which can help them plug vital gaps in their company.

While many might think that the battle for talent is limited to lower and mid-level positions, this is far from the truth. As recently shown by M&S’ hunt for a new finance chief, the race for talent stretches to the very top of company boardrooms, with employers seeing talent shortages at all levels.

Additionally, Brexit is bringing the growing skills shortage into the spotlight for many businesses – and with it, the question of whether employers will gain access to top finance talent from abroad.

According to the most recent developments, EU workers currently in the UK are able to apply for settled or pre-settled status. This alleviates the short-term pressure on the market. However, in the longer term, this is an issue that will likely be compounded by tightening visa controls and wider Brexit implications.

One thing that all companies are facing is their ability to attract and retain the skilled accounting and finance professionals they need to overcome the hurdles of a competitive marketplace in 2020.

A changing landscape

When it comes to challenges that the financial services sector is facing, the impact of digitalisation and automation remain top of the list for many employers. No longer are companies looking to recruit for today’s jobs, but rather for tomorrow’s careers.

The finance sector has been inundated with technological integration that has changed not only the way in which employees relate to their everyday tasks, but also the very systems that they work with. Over the past few years, processes such as invoicing, data collection, financial report generation and compliance have become increasingly automated. This has led to a growing demand for employees with both the experience to successfully interact with modern technologies and a willingness to embark on a path of continuous upskilling throughout their careers.

With the introduction of Artificial Intelligence that can automatically generate documents such as contracts, perform real-time analytics to produce written reports and manage compliance controls or anti-fraud programmes, it is easy to see how employers have an increasing need for employees who can successfully respond to the disruptive effects of technology within their department.

Candidates with the combination of technical and soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, effective communication and adaptability, plus the ability to ease the implementation process for new technologies, are in high demand.

However, employers looking for this type of candidate face stiff competition from their rivals, who will also be on the lookout for individuals who are confident facing tomorrow’s challenges and leading businesses into the digital future.

Similarly, another challenge faced by employers is the ever growing competition to capture a candidate’s attention: amidst a sea of job vacancies, and only a limited number of individuals who fit the job description available to fill them, companies need to maintain their competitive edge.

However, trying to stand out from the crowd is difficult and there are certain steps employers can take to attract top talent.

Attracting and retaining the best in the business

Businesses must focus on attracting and retaining those candidates who have the necessary skillsets to see them through digital transformation, as well as the soft skills to enable them to continue upskilling throughout.

When it comes to tasks such as system implementation, data migration and staff training, it makes business sense to rely on external resources with specialised expertise to help businesses successfully navigate their digital challenges.

Businesses with a flexible hiring strategy who are not afraid to tap into the pool of highly skilled temporary and interim professionals will greatly benefit in the long run. Not only will these interim professionals be available to work on short-term projects in the finance department, they will also be able to upskill existing team members to work with new technologies. There is a great opportunity to gain a set of specialised skills that will put them in good stead to permanently plug different skills gaps within the company.

Additionally, offering a competitive and comprehensive package can help attract those candidates who are being hunted by multiple companies. However, while remuneration remains an important aspect for highly-skilled candidates, a growing number of employees favour a work-life balance, flexible working opportunities and training and development courses over salary.

Retaining the workforce, however, is just as important as attracting it in the first place. Introducing perks that make employees feel valued can go a long way in improving staff morale and in making sure that employees remain satisfied with their job. Regular check-ins, clear career development paths and a willingness to promote a positive workplace culture will help not only make current staff feel valued, but also attract those candidates for whom a right cultural fit might prove a deciding factor in their job search.

It is important to keep in mind that the skills shortage can travel all the way up to the top of a company’s hierarchy, highlighting the need for clear succession paths for tomorrow’s finance chiefs.

Succession planning for CFOs

As CFOs and other finance professionals become more integrated in the senior boards of companies, thorough succession planning is becoming increasingly important.

As the war for talent intensifies, so too does the need for a concrete CFO succession plan. Without one, companies risk opening themselves up to having senior skills gaps, which can impact the wider talent management strategy of a company and trickle down to the rest of their staff.

Investing in professional development options to upskill staff is a must, as well as having defined career paths in place in order to build leadership skills and accelerate career growth within the company is a must for all companies looking to ensure as smooth a transition as possible when the time comes for the CFO to eventually step down.

This, followed by regular feedback processes, can help identify top performers, while offering the latter training and job shadowing opportunities also helps further develop a well-rounded suite of skills. Mentorship schemes can then ensure that lower and mid-management professionals are also continuously learning from highly-skilled professionals with an already established career in the company.

If the finance sector is to successfully solve its talent dilemma, it must work to close skills gap to attract and retain top professionals with the capacity to develop the skills of the future, but ensure that talent at the top remains secure and dependable.

By Matt Weston, the Managing Director of Robert Half UK.

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