Accounting firms must “discover, create and train” talent amid global shortage

Accounting firms must “discover, create and train” talent amid global shortage

Though challenging in the short term, firms may reap long-term benefits from being forced into alternative strategies

Accounting firms must “discover, create and train” talent amid global shortage

Accounting firms in the UK must view ongoing talent shortages as an opportunity to develop and nurture talent, market participants have said.

“Instead of viewing the current situation as a war for talent, we should view it as a war to discover, create and train talent,” says Sally Cosgrove, partner and head of people for audit at PwC UK.

“Firms including PwC are looking to attract and train people from different backgrounds, as well as recruiting experienced accountants from outside the UK.”

According to research released by recruitment platform Search in March, businesses within the UK accounting industry are understaffed by 22%.

But while supply is clearly falling short of demand, the newfound impetus for bolstering acquisition and retention efforts means this is not necessarily a bad thing, Cosgrove adds.

Such sentiments are echoed by Victoria Pounder, head of HR at Moore Kingston Smith, who argues that while salary, trust and personal and professional development remain important, “people are keen” for strong leadership, agile working, and a people-centric value proposition.

“We understand these elements are ‘need to have’ and not ‘nice to have’ for our people and prospective talent, which empowers us to flip the ‘great resignation’ into a great opportunity.”

Pounder also argues that the key to attracting talent is recognising that “no one size fits all”, and that fostering a feeling of inclusion is key to retaining staff.

“Engagement speaks to retention, and employers must exercise recognition, appreciate their people and nurture a sense of belonging – which is a new challenge in our now hybrid world,” she says.

However, according to Leanne Wilkins, head of talent acquisition and resourcing at MHA, the UK government’s forthcoming overhaul of the audit industry is likely to compound talent shortage issues.

In May, the UK government published its long-awaited response to a consultation on restoring trust in audit and corporate governance. The proposals include a strengthening of the UK Corporate Governance Code, an expansion of the criteria defining “public interest entities”, and the inception of a new, more powerful audit regulator – the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority (ARGA).

The overhaul will not just impact the number of people firms need to recruit and train to meet demand, but it will also alter the mix of skill sets, Wilkins adds, noting that MHA is developing a “multifaceted” talent strategy in an attempt to combat this.

“We are utilising our international networks to leverage existing talent, utilising contingent workers for cyclical work, promoting our excellent employee referral programme for our staff to refer talent and importantly, we work incredibly hard on employee engagement, retention, and building (award winning) structured training and development pathways for our people.”

Meanwhile, Helen Kay, head of audit at TC Group, argues that the increased scrutiny of the overhaul could see mid-sized firms in particular experience a talent windfall at the expense of smaller firms.

“For small audit firms, together with the continuing pressure on salaries, it just may not make commercial sense for them to continue with audit and so mid-size firms may benefit from this as clients and staff are looking for new audit firms to move to.”

Pounder remains optimistic about the overhaul of the industry, arguing that it offers a greater focus on responsible corporate governance that will pose an opportunity to reshape the audit space as a more attractive offer for people entering the profession.

“Gen Z for example has a strong sense of community responsibility and is known for pursuing an employer with values aligned to their own. The overhaul means more accountability for businesses, making audit a more appealing job proposition for this demographic.”

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