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How to hold on to the best accountancy talent 

By Jim Scott, MD for Accountancy at IRIS Software Group 

It’s no secret our increased migration to a more digital world, exacerbated by two years of the pandemic, has had a significant impact on the business world. The nation’s workforce, particularly those in the younger generations, now expect different working experiences when compared to pre-pandemic standards. This is no different in the accountancy profession. 

Accountancy practices, however, are often labelled as unwilling to part with traditional ways of working – this includes holding on to legacy technology systems they’ve been using for years. For many practices, it’s a case of ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’, but this is damaging. Moreover, it’s making some younger workers seek work in more modern, forward-thinking firms. For others, it’s pushing them in a different direction completely to explore careers in alternative industries. 

It’s clear that if accountancy practices don’t modernise and change their working styles now, they risk not only missing out on attracting the best young accountants, but also failing to hold on to them. 

The real test starts now – firms need top talent 

With huge amounts of debt to be repaid following emergency Covid measures, rising inflation rates and the true impact of Brexit finally coming to the forefront, British businesses need all the accountancy expertise they can get – after all, accountants are businesses’ most trusted advisors. 

This means for accountancy practices up and down the country, the real test starts now. They must ensure they’re in optimal fighting shape to navigate this tricky period for clients, all while future proofing their own operations so they’re best equipped to deal with any unexpected challenges along the way. 

To do this, attracting and keeping the best young talent in the industry is absolutely essential. While attracting talented individuals helps firms grow, retaining them enables firms to nurture and model talent aligned with company values and practices. This equips them to best advise clients in their time of need and ultimately shape the profession’s future leaders. 

Accountancy firms, however, need to shake their reputation of being slow to innovate, and modernise quickly. If they don’t, younger accountants will turn their heads.

Working from anywhere

The pandemic revolutionised the way we work with hybrid working models becoming the norm for many businesses. A 2021 survey revealed a strong preference among accountancy professionals to work two or three days from home with the rest spent at the office. The same survey however also found just 13% of practices give their employees a choice of when they work remotely. This lack of flexibility doesn’t match the wants and needs of the young accountant who expects a greater work/life balance.

With this in mind, accountancy practices should look to harness cloud-based platforms provided by experts in technology. With the ability to access all operations and processes from anywhere there’s an internet connection, accountancy firms can give employees greater flexibility. If firms are willing to shake the reluctance for change and prove they are forward thinking by offering flexible working options, they stand a much higher chance of attracting the best young talent in the market. 

Meaningful work 

While attracting young talent is no doubt key, it’s only half the battle. Retaining talent is essential for both future-proofing operations and consistently servicing clients to high standards. 

Practices can’t fall into the trap of giving young employees lengthy, repetitive and admin-heavy tasks. If The Great Resignation has taught us anything, this will only alienate them as young workers want meaningful work and are not afraid to explore other opportunities. Young workers want greater autonomy and to have the opportunity to be entrepreneurial. They don’t want to be given low-value tasks, they want to get stuck in and make a difference by tackling genuine business dilemmas at a pivotal time in their career. 

Usually, junior people in accountancy practices are given lower value admin work because these tasks take time and their time isn’t valued as highly as their senior counterparts. But there’s a way all employees’ time can be utilised effectively. Replacing legacy systems with new software can automate repetitive tasks and simplify complicated ones, saving hours of work each week. This frees up time and gives practices the means to provide better learning and development opportunities for young accountants. This will ultimately lead to them gaining essential exposure and experience in their practice and becoming invested in staying in the firm for the long run. 

Modernise to thrive 

It’s often useful to look elsewhere and learn from other industries to gauge a better understanding of how our own industry can improve. In manufacturing, for example, the Industrial Internet of Things) is enabling manufacturers to digitise nearly every aspect of their operations and reduce errors. In construction, Computer Aided Design has eliminated any problems associated with two-dimensional building plans by allowing a faster and more accurate creation of construction information. Just as digital transformation has enhanced operations in other industries, the same can be done in accountancy. 

It’s now time accountancy practices have their own technological rebirth. The profession must shake its reputation of being slow to innovate and get with the times. When used strategically, the right technology can both enable flexible working practices and streamline lengthy, low-value tasks. This will not only attract young accountants, but it will keep them for the long run. The future of the industry and British business depends on it. 

By Jim Scott, MD for Accountancy at IRIS Software Group

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