Accounting firms: your guide to outsmarting the UK talent shortage

Article by Lewis Bird, SKS Business Services

As the UK recruitment crisis continues to boil, we share ten practical tips to help small accountancy practices attract and retain staff.

The Problem

UK finance leaders concerned about the lack of available finance and accounting talent. [i]
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UK finance leaders stating that a lack of skills is the biggest 2023 hiring challenge. [ii]
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Financial services accountancy vacancies in 2022, a 20.4% year-on-year increase on 2021. [iii]

Behind The Numbers

“We’re short-staffed. The existing team is putting in extra hours, including work that is too junior. It’s a vicious circle that will lead to more losses.” – Partner, Accountancy Firm (60 people, 3 offices)

“Recruitment costs are spiralling, finding quality staff drains time and is frustrating.” – Partner, Accountancy Firm (25 people, 2 offices)

Beating The UK Accountancy Skills Shortage

Rather than dwelling on the well-documented reasons for the UK accountancy skills shortage, here are ten strategies to combat the problem so you can focus on growing your business.

1. (Really) understand today’s candidate

The post-pandemic candidate can be an anathema for partners who have worked all hours to build a practice. There is no doubt that salary and career progression are essential to today’s job seekers. Still, other values, such as work/life balance, company values and job satisfaction, are climbing the list. Consider how you can meet their needs with benefits such as profit share, work from home, gym membership, and childcare assistance.

2. Outsource basic accountancy tasks

Using service for basic tasks, such as bookkeeping, tax, and year-end accounts, removes the problem of recruiting junior staff in one easy hit. At the same time, it liberates existing staff from ‘junior’ work. This increases job satisfaction and retention as they can concentrate on more interesting (and higher fee-paying) work. Find out how firms are using this option to grow here.

3. Embrace flexible working

The opportunity to work – at least partly – from home is a must for today’s candidates – a 2021 behavioural study showed that jobs offering flexible working attracted up to 30% more applications. [iv] With 48% of accountants using flexible working options as a primary method to retain and attract new talent in 2023, it must be seriously considered to avoid losing the best talent to competitors. [v]

4. Make recruitment a team effort

In a small practice, team members naturally play the role of salespeople, constantly vying to win new business. It is time to turn these skills to recruitment. Encourage existing staff to mine their personal networks for potential recruits and offer referral bonuses as an incentive.

5. Show candidates what sets you apart

Why should candidates work for you? Properly answering this question will help with recruitment and clarify your business proposition. Perhaps you work in an appealing niche or take on challenging projects. Get inspiration from this Top Accounting Firms to Work For, which contains a helpful list of the criteria against which staff judge employers.  

6. Make recruitment personal

In a competitive recruitment market, a personal connection with a candidate can set you apart from a faceless HR department. Use LinkedIn to identify potential recruits and message them from a partner’s account. Attend industry events to make face-to-face contact.

7. Offer apprenticeships

The Big Four accountants have embraced apprenticeships as an alternative route to graduate recruitment. Government funding and apprenticeship agencies make training efficient and cost-effective. Learn more here.

8. Offer mentoring as part of personalised career development

Mentoring keeps employees engaged, empowered, and motivated. In the work-from-home era, it supports existing and new staff by strengthening employee interaction. It is a two-way transaction, helping mentees take their next career step and giving mentors a new perspective. 55% of businesses say that mentoring positively impacts their profits. [vi]

9. Invest in technology

Younger candidates are digital natives – if it can be automated, it should be. They recognise the cost efficiency and time-saving benefits of technology and are (rightly) frustrated if you don’t invest in systems to enable flexible working and reduce time spent on repetitive tasks. Read more about the cost benefits of cloud computing here.

10. Make applying easy

Your recruitment process tells a candidate a lot about your company. Is your application process clearly outlined on your website? Must candidates fill in a lengthy web form, or can they simply email you their CV? Can you reduce turnaround time by making recruitment a priority?

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