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Where have all the people gone?  By David Smith on May 10, 2021

business advisory software concept

The hunt for talent. Is it getting worse? Many are reporting that it seems to be getting harder. The Big Four firms are in the market soaking up the talent, others are doing the same. Some firms are reporting to me a rise in attempted poaching of their staff. Some had bad experiences with offshoring during the pandemic that is also putting pressure on recruitment. Salaries seem to be moving a little. 

It’s not an issue that is going to go away anytime soon. It’s been predicted for a long time that a shortage of labour will be a major issue brought about by a number of factors:

  • Retirement of the baby boomers
  • Increasing numbers of women in the profession many of whom leave to start families and then if they return, do not return in a full time capacity
  • Greater career choices and education choices for young people. Unfortunately, the accounting profession seems to be struggling in the war for talent against other career choices that are perceived as more interesting.

So what can be done?

Firstly, you need to retain your star performers. Are you involving them in client meetings? Are you providing them with opportunities to learn new skills and get exposure to a variety of clients and industries? Do you have a quality training program that focuses not just on technical knowledge but also covers IT, your processes, your products and service offering and the personal skills to assist them with client engagement, networking, leadership and the like. Perhaps you should consider our Young Guns Workshop being held at the Gold Cost on October 11-12. 

Are you giving your team regular feedback using “End of job reviews” to assess how well the job went and how we can do it better next year. Are we creating career development plans for our people to map out their career and determine the actions for the firm and them to help achieve their goals?

Are we having enough fun? Are you doing spontaneous things with your team to shake things up and have a laugh? 

Then we need a way to find the labour we want. Some solutions are long term.

Many firms have gone back to the future with implementing cadet programs and actively engaging with schools to encourage young people to consider a career in accounting. There are many firms that have achieved success with such programs. One needs to accept that there will be attrition and then you may need to hire more than you need. Over time some will stick (or return from a stint elsewhere) and become the backbone of the firm. 

Think about the baby boomers, many of whom don’t wish to fully retire. Are there part time roles for them which leverage their experience? 

Some firms have also targeted graduates or experienced professionals from other professions such as engineering, and have cross trained them. Often these people bring a broader perspective and can be greater additions to the business advisory team. 

While recruiters sit somewhere at the level of politicians in the “people I admire most” list, for many star performers they would prefer to utilise their services as it is more time efficient and enables them to target specific firm types or roles. 

There are good recruiters out there. It takes some work and perseverance to find them. In particular, you need to find a recruiter who is willing to spend the time to get to know your firm and will only send you candidates that closely fit your needs. You need to find recruiters who will do more than just place advertisements on job boards. People who will use their networks and all the technology available to find candidates. While their fees are high, quality recruiters do get results. 

You need to have a perpetual radar going looking for the stars. They don’t come along often and you need to snap them up when they do. 

Perhaps you need to set aside some time to think strategically about your team now and in the future. What skills will you need and how will you find and retain the talent. 

Star performers lead to star firms – there is nothing more important.

David Smith conducts strategic planning workshops for firms to help set a path for the future direction of the firm to unlock the opportunities and confront the risks. If you’d like to discuss your firm’s strategic plan contact him at [email protected].


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