The accounting skills shortage remains unaccounted for

By Mike Wright at Compleat Software, the P2P software house

A shortage of digital skills and talent in the accounting industry is threatening to hurt growth and put businesses in financial and regulatory trouble.

With around three-quarters (74%) of UK businesses now becoming troubled by the lack of skilled workers, according to research, businesses within the accounting industry are understaffed by 22%.

Twinned with a rise in inflation, the cost of living, and wage demands – the issue could potentially spiral out of control, fast.

SaaS platforms and digital tools are also becoming much more commonplace in the finance department, as is the use of automation and artificial intelligence, which demands a higher degree of tech knowledge from workers.

Businesses are in desperate need of tech skills, but with no way of securing them. 

How is the skills shortage affecting businesses?

Accountancy plays a vital role in the business world, as it helps businesses and their leaders stay both legal and compliant with the myriad of financial regulations they face. So it is absolutely essential that the sector attracts and retains the talent it needs, in order for it to be able to cope with demands and regulatory requirements industry demands.

As the industry develops, it brings with it new opportunities, technologies and new ways of working, which poses recruitment challenges for a sector traditionally focused on a very definitive set of skills. 

Many hiring managers in the industry now find they are faced with a specific skills gap, which is exacerbated further by national trends. For example, in a recent survey of 1,000 finance professionals, 27% indicated that staff and skills shortages were their biggest challenge.  

This is undoubtedly having a negative impact on the industry, businesses and the wider economy as outlined above, as accounting and finance touches every part of a business. 

With companies finding it difficult to find the right people, this will undoubtedly be hindering plans for growth, coupled with often outdated workflows and internal resistance to change, the issues are further compounded for businesses who are constantly looking for a competitive edge, as without the fuel accounting provides to a business, its engines supply cannot turn over.

What new skills are needed for modern accounting professionals and what’s driven the need for these skills?

In an age of digital automation dominating the lion’s share of manual tasks traditionally associated with accounting, ranging from data entry, to filing tasks – the accountants of today are now required to tackle increasingly strategic business and commercial tasks. These include forecasting, commercial planning and other strategic development roles.

This provides the industry with a great opportunity to set a new path for developing the accounting professionals of the future, which fits hand-in-glove with the use of digital technology to support growth across all areas of a business. 

Ditch legacy software and embrace new technology

For example, as a fallout from the pandemic, accounting professionals will have on the whole taken on either a hybrid, or agile approach to work, which would have exacerbated inefficient processes, which were just about workable in the office. 

Clunky, legacy software packages will have been exposed and in an effort for businesses to become efficient and to embrace new technology, ensuring accounting professionals are able to not only use, but understand the technology being used must be at the forefront of any businesses plan, as well as being a core focus for training the accounting professionals of the future. 

Develop the soft skills

Additionally, with technology being able to take the strain from the traditional manual tasks, accounting professionals are required to interact with perhaps a wider group of people than they may traditionally have done. This is where having a depth and breadth of soft skills would benefit the profession.  

This provides an opportunity for the industry to review the training and recruitment process accounting professionals go through. Although there is no single route for the development of the appropriate soft skills, accounting professionals can gain them from learning and experiences throughout their careers, which will allow for a pipeline of new talent, equipped for delivering the strategic business and commercial tasks that will await them in their careers. 

If businesses are able to utilise intuitive and innovative technology, they give themselves a platform to differentiate themselves from their  competition, which in the age of the great resignation and the increasing importance of the employee voice, it will not only take the pain from manual tasks, but will allow employees to focus on more rewarding work, whilst offering opportunities for upskilling, which are key drivers for talent attraction and retention.

Can technology help take up some of the slack

Digital technology is key to growth across all areas of a business, and businesses need to be brave and bold in their outlooks around how they employ technology, especially around ensuring they meet the expectations of the next generation of accounting professionals. 

Cloud-based accounting software

Although, one cannot exist without the other. You can’t, nor would you want to replace an entire department with machines, however by smartly purchasing and deploying software, such as cloud-based accounting software, businesses can support remote working, whilst providing an opportunity to recruit and train people who will have the capacity and desire bring in-demand skills and fresh ideas to take the business forward. 

The intelligence of things

By connecting the internet of things (IoT), which is the system of intrinsically linked devices and machines together with artificial intelligence (AI), the result is the intelligence of things. 

This allows for the items to both communicate and operate without human intervention, which provides accounting systems and accounting professionals with many opportunities.

The intelligence of things aids accounting professionals with ledger tracking, as well as transactions and other records, all in real-time. The use of artificial intelligence, allows for key patterns to be identified, or issues can be resolved quickly. This continuous monitoring makes accounting activities such as audits much more streamlined and stress-free. In addition, the intelligence of things improves inventory tracking and management.

When looking to plug the skills shortage gap, one thing is clear, investing in accounting technology has the power to put you apart as an employer which can attract talented people, who have the passion to want to work for you and the skills to help move your business forward. 

In the quest for accounting for the skills shortage, it will be those businesses that make the technological investments, both financially and culturally, who will be able to ensure they are able to recruit, develop and most importantly hold on to the accounting professionals of the future.

Mike Wright at Compleat Software, the P2P software house

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