Headstart: Careers – The right skills for the shortage.

Not so long ago it was ‘not enough good calibre people for corporate finance’. Now, staff at all levels are being made redundant. This is a rather easy, and perhaps extreme, example of the changing supply and demand for certain skills but it reflects the inevitable peaks and troughs (of varying heights) of employment.

One of the great strengths of an accounting qualification is its transferability, often both by function and sector. For example, what will our redundant corporate finance executives do? Recently I have been in contact with two who have found a resolution.

The first, two years post qualified and just one year in corporate finance, successfully marketed his good ‘analytical and interpretative skills’ into a financial analyst role with a plc. The second, more senior, person had a more difficult task and had to accept a not insignificant reduction in remuneration to achieve an administrative/technical position with an organisation associated to his employer who knew him (and his abilities).

The reality is that skills shortages of some description will nearly always exist but will change. It is part of the challenge for any organisation to ‘manage’ this situation. For example, in practice, smaller firms in particular have great difficulty finding the right quality staff. Many have overcome this by offering progressive employment policies i.e. part-time, flexi and home working. Many commercial and industrial companies are now very much geared to using temporary staff and, where age and experience is needed e.g. coping with the absence of a line manager or implementing a major project, using an interim executive.

In the event of a downturn causing serious unemployment levels what accountants who are out of work will sensibly ask, is ‘where do skills shortages exist and then look to move into that area.’ What they will need to realise is that most of these areas will no longer have such a shortage and competition for available positions will be against those who have related experience.

In such times, what people need to focus on is their key skills and experience.

Very often, therefore, a similar job, even in a depressed sector, can still be the most likely route to securing employment or a position that may seem quite different by perception, but actually needs a similar skills set. The idea of ‘retraining into something different’ is the least likely option.

So what should accountants do to ensure their marketability?

1 Choose a career path best suited to your aptitudes and personality, not where the ‘grass is greenest’ if it isn’t right for you.

2 Ensure you keep your skills up to date.

3 Work at improving those complementary competencies where you are weak.

– John Seear is head of the career service at the ICAEW.

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