Another year has passed at lightning speed. Older? Definitely. Wiser? I hope so. It’s certainly been another unpredictable and challenging year in recruitment, but as it draws to a close, I have been reflecting on what I have learned and what the next twelve months could hold in the world of accountancy and finance.

Skills Shortages

There is no end in sight for the skills shortages that are driving an increase in outsourcing services overseas. Firms are also expanding their advisory offerings to provide businesses with greater management information, so they become much more than the traditional once-a-year annual audit and accounts service. Both areas of growth will heighten pressure to attract and retain talent and it could be a challenging time for businesses trying to keep salary demands under control.

Employee Wellbeing 

Businesses that embrace people’s desire for a better work-life balance will fare well. According to ACCA, 83% of accountants would like to work remotely at least one day per week. In a candidate-driven market, embracing hybrid working and demonstrating that you can deliver on personal development plans will appeal to a wider talent pool.

Advancing Technology

Continuing to shape the future, technology already plays a big role in the accounting sector. Moving at a relentless pace, according to the ACCA, 63% of us would like more technology training. To stay relevant, businesses need to adopt a culture of technological innovation, which includes upskilling and valuing those skills in the recruitment process.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Employers will continue to place a greater emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion in their recruitment strategies. With the benefits well documented, it is important to recognise the need for this in the accounting and finance sectors. A survey by Skills, Retention, and Attraction confirmed that 57% of UK businesses regard this as a strategic priority as it opens a wider candidate market and draws talent from all backgrounds.

Training and Skills

The ongoing impact of the pandemic and the training and skills gaps created means that while some professional roles will continue to call for college degrees, recruiters will be casting their net wider. Larger employers already target candidates in education, with entry-level recruits requiring lower salaries. Increasingly, it’s your talent rather than the pedigree of your institution or past employer that counts.

Relocate or Resign

For those not keen on hybrid working, 2024 will see a resurgence in the expectation that people head back into the office four or five days a week, meaning there are tough choices ahead. In the accounting profession, as a result, we expect to see more people choosing to move or simply resigning to find something closer to home that offers the flexibility they seek.

Generation Z

Set to become a significant part of the workforce, successful recruiters need to adapt to the distinct values, traits, and preferences of this generation. To attract and retain Gen-Z talent, companies need to leverage digital recruitment platforms, bring a focus to their social responsibility efforts, offer clear pathways for career progress and skill development, and provide a flexible working environment.

While I don’t profess to see the future clearly, I believe it will be bright for those who leverage technology, nurture inclusivity, and meet the needs and expectations of candidates and employees.

Embracing a better work-life balance and remote work preferences will widen your talent pool. Technological innovation remains key, with a strong call for more training in advancing technologies.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are rightly gaining prominence in recruitment strategies, and, with the evolving landscape moving toward valuing talent over institutional pedigree, Generation Z could be ready to take centre stage.

Despite the skills shortages driving outsourcing and the pressure to balance well-being with business demands, I remain optimistic in my outlook for 2024 as, however we see it, the journey will continue to be marked by challenges and buoyed by the resilience and adaptability of the accounting and finance industry.

It is obvious that the world of work is changing but, in truth, it has been changing for some time.

Driven by continuous digital innovation, we have been witnessing a shift in workplace culture for many years. The speed and scale of this global pandemic has simply accelerated it beyond belief.

The way we work, the places we work in, and the skills we are going to need to be successful in business must all be reconsidered.

Homeworking is the new norm, with many people’s uncertainty around this as a serious long-term strategy superseded after seeing the productivity gains that can be made when people are encouraged to fully integrate their work and personal life.

The trust required to do this has been forced in many cases, but it is something that will be in high demand long after this crisis, which means employee engagement must also become a priority.

Employee engagement and productivity have always gone hand in hand, no matter where people work, and, with flexibility in high-demand, organisations must do all they can to help managers develop the skills they need to lead a dispersed team.

Whether through training or regular communication, it is important to get everyone involved as much as possible. You will also need to find a way to routinely monitor your team’s motivation and level of commitment if you want to retain them in the long-term.

Contrary to investing in people, the idea that machines are going to take all our jobs isn’t something new but does seem more prevalent than ever due to the complexity and constraints around people and space.

Big data, artificial intelligence, robotics, automation and global connectivity are just some of the solutions being fast-tracked by businesses, with advances in these fields offering the opportunity to transform the way they operate and make cost-effective productivity gains in the process. However, this does not have to have the knock-on effect of mass unemployment.

If we focus not only on the application of new digital improvements but also on how these advancements will affect jobs and talent in the workplace, it is possible to adapt working practices so that they help people to develop the skills they need to thrive alongside machines, rather than be replaced by them.

Most jobs consist of around 20 to 30 different kinds of activity and, while some may be easily replaced by technology, it’s unlikely that every aspect will be, so rather than be made obsolete, it could be that most jobs will simply change.

This means if you’re a business leader or manager, you have a responsibility to begin redesigning the way your company not only works with technology but the environment in which people operate and the way you recruit and manage talent.

How will your working models change when there is no longer a need for physical proximity to colleagues? Will you join the growing number of companies who are crowd-sourcing people with the skills they need for a particular contract? Perhaps you’ll utilise the more and more skilled people who are choosing to work as freelancers so they can pick and choose projects they are passionate about?

Whatever you do, it seems that, in the future, successful careers will most likely be built around learning and skills rather than specific jobs and, if that is the case, we will all need to be recruiting people who not only have the right attitude and outlook but who can also solve problems, lead well, communicate expertly and have excellent technological skills.

Emotional intelligence, empathy, curiosity and the understanding and creative application of what we can do with the information that computers create will also be critical to the new way of working, which is also going to mean companies have to operate in a nimble and agile way – thinking big, but acting small.

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