Gen Z, Millennial talent shift forces industry change

Gen Z, Millennial talent shift forces industry change

As the accounting industry faces an important shift in both employment rates and talent retention, one London-based firm has successfully flipped the script on Millennial and Generation Z talent

Gen Z, Millennial talent shift forces industry change

“If you look at Gen Z or Gen Alpha, there are huge challenges with that workforce, where they have different expectations,” says Alastair Barlow, co-founder of Flinder. “When I was learning to be an accountant, you’d photocopy something for someone, and just get it done and stay until whatever time.”

Barlow recognises it’s a time of change for employers and employees in the sector – a narrative that’s echoed elsewhere: according to a report by recruitment firm Hays, 83 percent of accountancy and finance employers are reporting a skills shortage.

In the midst of  this skills shortage, there are incentives for UK employers to onboard new talent sooner rather than later. But it’s not easy.

“We’ve got people that leave at 5:31pm on the dot, so it has its own challenges of balancing their expectations with our expectations,” says Barlow.

As the UK’s unemployment rate continues to fall, Hays found that across the board, potential and existing employees are valuing work-life balance and benefits more than ever, a policy in line with Flinder’s vision.

Furthermore, millennial job-seekers list flexible working as more important to them than a job’s difficulty or location. However, from every age group surveyed by Hays, less than one percent consider the company’s “brand” when considering a job change—a far cry from Barlow’s approach at Flinder.

“We’re here to build a brand first, a business second, and an accounting firm third—and that’s kind of what we’re about,” Barlow explains. “That’s been very important for us as well, to build the brand, and it’s helped us to attract the right talent, where we hired 15 people in 15 months to satisfy that growth.

“There’s two sides of the equation. There’s one, bringing in clients, and the other one’s bringing in staff. Clients—well, I always want more clients—but the bigger challenge is people in accounting, so you’ve got to attract both of those with brands, and people buy into a brand. Otherwise, it’s just like, why would they work for me versus someone else?”

Onboarding the younger generations

Over the past year, the average salary in the accountancy and finance sector has also increased 1.3 percent, allowing employers to be more competitive in their talent selection.

This change may continue for the foreseeable future. A 2020 ACCA report found that across every generation, a majority reported that in the coming years, careers within accountancy will be ‘changing significantly,’ with ‘changing to some extent’ being the second most-popular answer.

“There’s a lot of noise and the accountant is supposed to be everything to everyone,” Barlow says. “Everyone’s trying to push that as the channel to sell their products, or their services or whatever it might be. The accountant came to this as a day job, as well, and he’s got a more demanding day job than he ever has done.”

With those increased demands, employees are demanding a better work-life balance. According to Hays, having over 28 days of annual leave is the top benefit that an employer could offer for 57% of jobseekers.

However, Barlow explains that while employees’ priorities are shifting, so are employers’, requiring them to have a versatile point of view.

“We’re all the time looking for, ‘Can they think outside the box? Do they have the appetite to do something differently? Do they have the inclination to challenge themselves or to challenge the status quo?’” Barlow says. “So that’s what we’re looking for from a specific person in the entrepreneurial value.”

That fluidity may become more important in the years to come. In 2018, an IFAC survey found that Generation Z talent (18 – 24) are more fluid in their career plans, with a large swath reporting an interest in accountancy.

With the changing priorities of Millennial and Generation Z talent, there is an opportunity for firms to think outside of the box and adjust policies to entice new talent. At Flinder, the co-founders have taken the chance to shake things up, with palpable results.

“We don’t want to conform,” Barlow says. “We want to break the mould. We want to say, ‘Actually, the world of accounting is progressing and changing.’ It’s about data, it’s about being authentic—it’s not about wearing a suit.

“It’s about coming to work and bringing those skills and that talent, but actually speaking your mind and harnessing to help the client, and not just deliver a set of financial statements.”

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