BY JENNIFER WARAWA
With job growth expected in the professional services industry, accounting practices are under pressure to compete in the war for talent, working hard to attract new, top-notch professionals – and also to keep their current employees, a charge that’s proven difficult.
Indicative of the new wave of opportunity in the industry, professional services such as accounting ranked among the highest in terms of staff turnover in 2017, according to an examination of LinkedIn data drawn from the site’s half-a-billion international users.
As fear of a talent shortage looms, employing the right people with the right mix of skills, and providing a culture that allows them to thrive, will be the key to the success of any accounting firm.
Here are three key steps that accounting firms can take to attract and retain the industry’s top talent:
Acknowledge industry changes with both current employees and candidates
Openly acknowledging and embracing changes in the accounting profession can help firms to attract and retain the next generation of top accountants. Now, accounting professionals serve as both a financial resource and a trusted strategic advisor—it’s officially time to say goodbye to the stereotype of accountants as desk-bound number crunchers. With this in mind, it’s important to position your firm as one that understands and supports the accountant’s changing role.
In communication with both current employees and job candidates, it’s essential to be transparent about how the accounting profession is evolving. Your employees may be apprehensive about the redefinition of their role, so opening the door for candid conversations can help clear the air of any misconceptions and will establish a relationship built on trust. With candidates, make sure they have a firm understanding of the skills needed to thrive as a modern accountant by dedicating significant time discussing elements of their job function that are newer to the industry.
What’s more, by discussing how tech innovation has transformed the industry with candidates, accounting firms will demonstrate that they have adopted a technology-first mindset, attracting digital savvy employees and putting the firm on par with their blue-chip competitors. In a world of digital dependency, this will go a long way towards attracting and retaining digital-first colleagues.
Define success and equip your staff with tools to get there
Today, accountants need a wide range of skills to succeed, with more emphasis on proficiency in personal communication and technology than ever before. As new skills gain prominence in accounting, like presentation, project management and relationship building, accounting professionals are coming to terms with what it takes for an accountant of the future to be successful, carefully evaluating how they fit into the bigger picture of this newly redefined industry.
One of the most effective ways to attract and retain top talent is to provide a clear career development and training path—such as the route to Partnership. A challenge many accountancy firms come across is that middle-level employees often get disillusioned as they progress. With becoming a Partner being seen as the ultimate goal, providing colleagues a clear and achievable route to this milestone—and carrying out regular reviews to monitor their progress along the way—could be the golden ticket to retaining valuable team members.
Once you clearly define an accountant’s success, see to it that your employees have access to the tools needed to get there. For example, with technology adoption taking place at a faster rate than ever before, the accountants of the future will be much more comfortable with technology than their predecessors. Invest in retraining to help employees feel confident about doing business with new technologies like artificial intelligence and bots. Alternatively, for those more comfortable with technology and delivering financial insight as opposed to building client relationships, consider developing a mentor program, pairing individuals with those who seek guidance.
In the hiring process, be particularly mindful of the varied skill-set needed to succeed, and consider looking outside of the standard talent pool—beyond the traditional accountancy qualifications—to build a firm with the right mix of expertise. Ultimately, if organizations don’t set their employees up for success, and outline exactly how they can progress, they risk losing them to firms that do.
Ensure your workforce feels valued and motivated
The key to success for any accountancy firm will be employing the right people, with the right mix of skills, and providing a culture that allows them to thrive. Focus on bringing digital knowledge and expertise into the practice, along with strategic and critical thinking, and create the right company culture to deliver an engaging employee experience.
To promote positive company culture, communicate openly with employees to get a sense of what would motivate them in the workplace. Almost half of respondents to a Sage workforce survey said they had never been asked by their employer how they can improve their work experience. Meanwhile, 66% of respondents to the same survey believe being valued and recognised is the most important aspect of employment. What’s more, positive workforce experiences are important to 92% of employees, which highlights how imperative it is that firms take this into account if they want to hire the best and brightest – and keep them.
By providing clear development opportunities, focusing on the needs of employees and looking to recruit a new range of skills, firms can put themselves in the best position to attract, retain and develop the right talent, now and in the years to come.
The writer is a partner at MIDAS Aviation, industry consultatncy.