Sally Percy, journalist

It’s not just HGV drivers who are highly sought after by employers today. The UK is experiencing a widespread labour shortage across numerous professions and sectors, with finance professionals among the talent that is in short supply.

Recruiter Randstad saw a 200% increase in the accounting and finance vacancies that it advertised in the first half of 2021, compared with the same period in 2020. In comparison, the number of applications for accounting roles was up by 80%.

Sharif Omar, director of accountancy and finance at Randstad UK, says the explosion in accounting vacancies is linked primarily to the UK’s strong economic recovery from the pandemic, rather than the loss of EU talent following Brexit.

‘There’s a lot more confidence in the market,’ he says. ‘Previously, employers may have held off on projects or headcount due to the uncertainty. But now it’s as if a backlog of plans has come to fruition.’

There is strong demand for financial analysts, needed to undertake crucial scenario modelling to support business planning

Flexibility essential

As companies pursue growth, Omar is seeing strong demand for financial analysts, in particular. Employers want analysts to undertake the crucial scenario modelling that will support business planning. Financial accountants are also sought after for due diligence work to mitigate risk, while systems accountants are needed to support digital transformation.

Lee Owen, director at Hays Accountancy & Finance, says that while business intelligence and finance transformation skills are prized, employers are also looking for adaptable, flexible candidates who have the ‘experience or mindset to handle a changing environment’. They also need to feel comfortable using technology since ‘remote working looks set to remain a key part of the future of work’.

Gary Darlington, associate director of staffing business Walters People, acknowledges that while finance professionals appear to have the benefit of a candidate-driven jobs market, many are nervous about entering it. In some cases, this is because they have a ‘better-the-devil-you-know’ mentality. ‘The remainder,’ he says, ‘have become comfortable with their new, flexible ways of working with their current employer.’

‘The expectation from most candidates is that hybrid working is standard, not a perk

Evolving expectations

Darlington also notes that candidates’ expectations around working practices are making the hiring process more challenging. ‘Candidates’ views are differing,’ he says. ‘Some professionals want fully remote; others want a hybrid arrangement or to be back in the office 100% of the time.’

Inevitably, employers risk missing out on good candidates if they don’t adapt to these differing expectations. ‘Many companies are still adamant that they want staff in five days a week,’ says Omar. ‘And those employers are struggling to attract candidates. The expectation from most candidates is that hybrid working is standard, not a perk.’

Candidates also have rising salary expectations. ‘Someone who was newly qualified would probably be looking for £45,000 two years ago,’ says Omar. ‘Right now, we’ve got roles going up to £55,000 for newly qualified accountants.’

Hiring in practice

Stephen Paul, managing director of accountancy firm Valued Accountancy, believes that while many finance professionals are currently looking for new roles, it’s difficult for employers to identify those candidates who are the right fit. ‘Many people are selling themselves brilliantly on CVs,’ he says, ‘but when you interview them over Zoom they’re really not that good.’

Paul has addressed his own recruitment challenges by going back to candidates who previously interviewed with his firm in the past, to see if they would be interested in moving now. He’s also focused on ensuring that his firm is seen as an attractive employer.

‘Talk to your team about what they want,’ he says. ‘It’s not all about the wage. It’s about the package. Health and wellbeing are really important to team members. Work-life balance and client contact are exceptionally important.’ In addition to annual leave, his team get five days dedicated to ‘life moments’ such as attending school sports days or moving house. Paul is also considering introducing a four-day work week.

Transylvanian top-up

Matt Portt, founder of Portt & Co, a provider of outsourced finance functions to early-stage, high-growth businesses, has struggled to source finance professionals in the UK with the skills and experience that he’s looking for. His innovative solution was to open an office in the Romanian city of Brașov – a solution made possible by an experienced staff member who moved to the UK from Brașov several years ago. Portt has successfully hired finance professionals with UK experience to work in the Brașov office; by the end of the year, it should have a staff of four.

Meanwhile, to attract and retain high-calibre staff within its UK business, Portt & Co aims to be fully supportive of working parents, giving them flexibility in terms of hours and location. The firm is also in the process of being certified as a B Corp. ‘There’s a whole new generation that’s looking at their employers in terms of what they can offer other than salary and progression,’ says Portt. ‘They’re looking at our values and making sure those are aligned with theirs, based on our impact on the environment and society, and how we look after our people.’

Owen also highlights the relevance of purpose and values. ‘A key trend we’re seeing emerge is that people are increasingly being motivated to work for businesses that prioritise social responsibility and doing good, and have a clear purpose instead of more traditional motivators such as salary and benefits,’ he says. ‘Offering volunteer days, supporting charitable organisations and having a clear strategy for sustainability are all really important.’

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