PracticeAccounting FirmsTraining and development special: the new kids stir it up

Training and development special: the new kids stir it up

They’re young and want it all now, say senior colleagues. Nic Paton on the animosity created by ‘Generation Y’

You can blame the dumbing down of the education system for creating a
generation of young adults who have never had to struggle for anything in their
lives. You can blame ‘helicopter parents’ for overly spoiling their young
darlings. You could, at least up to 18 months ago, blame a decade of boom and an
ageing workforce for encouraging ‘Generation Y’: under-30-somethings who believe
the world owed them a living.

Conversely, perhaps too many managers grew up watching CJ in The fall and
rise of Reginald Perrin
and spend their days looking down disdainfully on
their trainees and muttering: ‘I didn’t get where I am today by…’

Whatever the answer, the arrival of the so-called Generation Y, or workers
born after 1982, into accountancy practices seems to be causing a bit of an
issue. Of course, there have always been differences between generations ­ the
post-war ‘hero’ generation looked down on the baby-boomers of the 1960s, who in
turn dismissed Generation X, or those who came of age in the Thatcher years and
now make up the majority of managers or partners. But the different outlook and
expectations of Generation Y do appear to be causing friction within some
accountancy firms.

For example, a poll of more than 1,000 part and professionally-qualified
accountants by recruitment firm Reed last autumn found more than half were
unhappy with their benefits packages, despite the industry’s reputation for
paying well and that eight out of ten of their employers assumed the opposite.

Generation Y also have little job loyalty, often being prepared to move on
every year or so, with Reed in part blaming this ‘have it all’ approach on the
fact they are the first generation to come into work saddled with heavy student

‘There can be a sense of “I am better than that” or, somehow, what you asking
is beneath them. They have a degree or loads of A* A-levels and you are asking
them to do some photocopying. They don’t volunteer, or the ones that do really
stand out,’ complains one senior accountant to Accountancy Age.

Adds another: ‘I’ve had occasions where I’ve wanted someone to go out on a
Saturday afternoon to a rural business to do a stock take. When I was starting
out you would have seen that as an opportunity, a chance to earn some brownie
points, but now more often than not the sense you get back is that it is a
massive inconvenience.’

Karen Young, business director for Hays Senior Finance, concedes this clash
of expectations can be cause problems. ‘Often the managers or partners will have
worked really hard to get to the top and these guys seem just to want a fast
track,’ she says. ‘Often they do not fully realise the value of core work
experience on their CV and, on top of this, have a very strong concept of
work-life balance.’

But, with the banking system in crisis and accountancy proving increasingly
popular for finance-minded graduates, managers should be working with this
difference in outlook rather than trying to confront it, says John Watkins,
director of learning and development at PKF.

‘From a management perspective you have to recognise that different things
will work for them. You need to adjust your perspective, recognise what is
achievable and stop taking the view that you can’t do something just because it
has never been done like that before,’ he points out.

‘It is not that people do not want to work hard, it is that they want to work
in a way that fits in with their lives,’ agrees Sarah Shillingford, graduate
recruitment partner at Deloitte, which in January said it had seen a 12%
increase in the number of students applying for graduate positions starting this

PricewaterhouseCoopers, too, says it has seen a 50% increase in graduate
applications. ‘So a lot of it is about having a dialogue and not pretending you
have all the answers,’ Shillingford adds.

What’s more, if older generations stopped fulminating and thought back to how
they were as new graduates, they might find there were fewer differences between
the generations than they imagined, argues Ed Hussey, HR director at London and
south-east chartered accountants Menzies, which employs around 60 trainees out
of a staff of 300.

The firm did its own research among trainees before Christmas and found the
key things they wanted were training and development, breadth of experience
early on, flexibility of work and lots of feedback. ‘They want clarity about
their career progression and what options they have open to them going forward,
none of which is that revolutionary. In fact, I’d say, they fairly classically
fit the mould of people starting out in their career,’ he says.

Finally, for a generation that has grown up knowing nothing but boom and
opportunity, the recession is likely to be a rude shock that may in itself lead
to a sea-change in attitude.

‘There may be an element of people having to be more flexible and look at
other options such as, perhaps, insolvency rather than M&A or corporate
finance,’ says Karen Young. ‘But there has been a shortage of good quality
accountants for some years now and there still is. So the really, really good
people will still be able to rise to the top.’

Case study: ‘what we want is the right work-life balance’

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 25-year-old Waleed Chaudary disputes the notion that
Generation Y are all a bunch of demanding divas.

But the London School of Economics accounting and finance graduate, who
joined the Menzies graduate training scheme in 2006 and now works as an audit
senior in the corporate department of the firm’s Heathrow office, does concede
issues such as having a good work-life balance are important to him.

‘It is human nature to want the right balance. The work environment is
important to me. If you are working somewhere that is friendly then you’re not
going to mind doing the extra hours. The point is there has to be equality and
mutual respect,’ he says.

‘I completely disagree with the idea that Generation Y want too much. But
what we do want is mentoring, training and recognition when we have done
something well. If you put in extra effort you do want some feedback to help you
know that are going in the right direction. If you don’t know what you are doing
well or badly you can never improve.

Chaudary, who qualified last December, adds: ‘In my experience, people are
prepared to work hard.’

While for many Generation Y workers, issues around the environment, recycling
and corporate social responsibility are all important, for just as many it’s
simply a case of wanting to get on with their lives, pass their exams and carve
out careers for themselves, he argues.

‘The one thing that doesn’t change is the long-term desire to progress your
career and to learn. At the moment, too, with the economic climate as it is,
more people are now looking at their jobs as to whether they are secure, as well
as whether they are happy where they are,’ he adds.

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