How to spot bright new accountancy talent

How to spot bright new accountancy talent

In an era where innovation is transforming the accountancy profession, how can partners and recruiters spot the right talent for today’s firms?

How to spot bright new accountancy talent

As the accounting industry opens itself up to new training and skills, identifying talent can become a challenge when recruiting individuals wishing to enter the profession.

To adapt to these changes, accountancy firms are now looking at expanding their talent pool whilst focusing on the potential that each candidate can provide – looking away from academic results and achievements and focusing on how adaptable the potential employee can be.

With expectations changing amid new technologies such as AI, recruiters are now favouring candidates who build relationships with clients – a skill that none of these innovations offer.

How then, has the talent pool for the accountancy profession changed, and how can recruiters identify talent that needs to come into their practice?

The new talent pool

With the next generation arriving in the profession, the industry is experiencing a real change within its talent pool, where new recruits now envision their career paths with a different lens.

Dan Richards, Head of Recruitment at EY for UK & Ireland, explains: “The talent pool has changed dramatically in the last few years. With the emergence of Gen Z entering the world of work, we now have five generations in the accounting profession.

“That means five generations of different skills, experiences, and perspectives. The traditional career path associated with older generations such as boomers, is not as relevant to Gen Y or Gen Z.

“People aren’t necessarily looking to start and end their career with the same organisation or work their way up to Partner. They want different career experiences; some are prepared to take sideways or even backward steps into other careers to enrich their career development.”

More importantly, the arrival of digital trends within the industry has drastically transformed the range of skillsets for new trainees, in which the demand of clients has also shifted.

Richards comments: “As accountancy has become increasingly digital, there’s been more and more demand for STEM skills in our profession. Traditional roles in audit, tax and corporate finance are being complemented by data analysis, cyber security and software development.

“A lot of this can be attributed to the changing expectations of our clients, as they themselves are experiencing digital disruption in their industry,” he adds.

Technology’s impact

The disruption caused by the arrival of technology has also led to a gradual mental shift within the industry, where firms are increasingly having to put their trust in the hands of young professionals, fresh to the sector.

In a recent debate led by Accountancy Age, CEO of inniAccounts James Poyser shares how the digital innovations are impacting the traditional nature of the profession:

“We are asking a firm to liberate data and systems, and put it in the hand of somebody that is young, inexperienced, and does not necessarily have a degree. That is probably a big mental shift for a traditional firm.”

Richards also explains: “The world has radically changed over the past decade with technology revolutionising the services we deliver, and the way in which we deliver them. Routine tasks associated with accountancy such as data processing and compliance checks are being undertaken by robots and AI.

“Keeping pace with new developments requires an ability to constantly adapt and an agile mindset open to fresh ideas. The greatest challenge for our industry is our ability to embrace the certainty of change and become comfortable with the relentless transformational impact of new technology.”

Poyser also points out how the advisory role of accountants encompasses a key human skill that machines cannot replace: “They are advisors – which is a human to human interaction. You have to be able to connect with a client and how you as a professional can help them.”

On a similar note, Richards shows that human to human relationship is essential within the profession – an irreversible ability for professionals:

“However, throughout all of this upheaval, one thing remains constant. The most successful accountants master the ability to build strong connections with people and display an elevated level of emotional intelligence. As technology dominates boardroom agendas across the country, it is irreplaceable soft, human skills which sets successful accountants apart.”

Challenging the traditional recruitment process

When looking at the old-fashion ways of recruiting within the profession, academic achievements and skills often appear at the top of the agenda for recruiters. However, the new era of the sector shows how the process is now done differently.

Steve Gale, Head of Audit at Crowe, reveals how recruitment is gradually being challenged by the evolving industry:

“We have a traditional way of how we recruit people. But what about young adults that are not academic driven but are good with numbers? The new challenge for us, as professionals, is about how we get these news skills for an old profession because we keep evolving.

“Where’s our social media channels? These are new skillsets. As in this profession, we need to broaden our horizon to these types of skills that are necessary.”

Within the accountancy practice, the image of the ideal candidate has changed, in which recruiters now seek individuals who have a thirst for overcoming risks and are willing to make difficult decisions.

Richards explains how recruiters today are looking for talent that is very different from a few years ago – with commitment and flexibility becoming key features when hiring millennials.

“As a forward-thinking employer, EY looks to recruit people with the right skills and attributes in order to adapt to new ways of working,” Richards says.

“Among other things, you need the desire to manage your own career development, have the ability to self-promote and collaborate effectively with others, and have the curiosity to redefine what’s possible – not being afraid to take risks. These are all traits which we see in millennials.”

An attractive profession?

Yet, with these changes comes a new challenge. Recruiters are now looking at making accountancy an attractive profession in order to recruit professionals in the first place.

Reflecting on this, Richards comments: “By 2025, Millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce. A majority of them are already moving into management positions. EY has done a lot of research into what motivates millennials, what attracts them to professions such as ours, and what they can bring in return.

“We’ve learned that millennials are highly committed to their careers. Their work hours have increased over the last five years, they are twice as likely to travel overnight for business compared with other generations, they want more flexibility and are willing to make tough choices to manage their work and home life.”

As the profession gradually shifts due to innovations within the industry and a drastic change in its talent pool, the future accountant will look very differently to its present role.

Richards concludes: “The traditional chartered accountant role could soon become largely unrecognisable and that can seem like a daunting prospect for new professionals, who in many ways are entering the industry as pioneers of a new way of working. However, for those willing to embrace the chance to shape the industry and engage with the broader market, the challenge is an exciting one.

“One thing is for certain: the role of the chartered accountant as a trusted advisor to our clients and organisations at large, will be more important than ever.”

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