Emerging trends for accountants – skills shortage

The 3rd trend I’d like to look at now is that of skills within the profession.

During the global financial crisis (GFC), many accounting firms (large and small) in the face of declining demand for their services and the fact that many clients were unable to pay their fees on time (or not at all,) sacked thousands professional staff. This happened in the US, UK, many countries in the EU, New Zealand and of course Australia.

Some firms used the GFC as an excuse to let go of staff they didn’t want or as an opportunity for “team renewal.” Others had no choice – they needed to cut costs quickly.

In Australia, (I can’t comment specifically on other markets around the world) in the period after the GFC, the market had picked up and professional accounting skills are now in hot demand. The Accounting market isn’t alone in this; many sectors within the Australian economy are facing (or soon will face) skill shortages which will adversely impact a business’s performance and viability.

Set against this background, accounting firms will need to be smarter and more selective in their use of professional accounting skills. If people with the right mix of skill and experience are more scarce and difficult to hire and retain, then Partners/Principals of Accounting firms need to redesign work processes and methods of service delivery to cater for a greater input/role of support /semi-skilled staff and having less work done by the fully trained professional.

This redesign may also involve the use of outsourcing companies to have much of the “compliance” work done out of house.

Smaller firms (i.e. those with 50 or less staff) will have to be particularly adept at work redesign since it is commonly believed that they will have less resources to expend on recruitment, training & development and provide scope for career progression.

Here is an interesting hypothetical question … If you were told tomorrow that within 3 months 30% of your professional staff would be leaving your team or firm and you couldn’t replace them with the same skills (the demand in the market is just too hot) what would you do?

Unfortunately, given current trends, the above question may just turn out to be reality!

See you next time.

James E