The biggest issue I am currently hearing from employers is the acute shortage of qualified, experienced accountants and how hard it is proving to retain and attract them. There seem to be increasing incidences of competitors poaching staff, sometimes even before they are qualified, and upward pressure on salaries. Strategies to improve retention rates of high-potential team members once they qualify, and to increase success in attracting experienced hires, are more important than ever.

Although 2020 saw the largest annual fall in UK GDP for 300 years, 2021 is showing a very rapid bounce-back with the Bank of England expecting the highest rate of economic growth for 70 years, what they have described as being like a ‘coiled spring’. The greatest challenges many businesses now face no longer revolve around sales, revenue and cashflow, but are limitations on the supply-side; ramping up dormant supply chains, reopening premises, and most of all ensuring that they have enough human capital to take advantage of surging customer demand.

When I ask the employers that I work with what their biggest HR headache is they invariably talk about retention of qualified, experienced staff. Recruitment to fill entry-level positions still seems relatively easy at the moment, with greater numbers and higher calibre of school-leaver and graduate applicants than ever before. The difficulty is hanging onto team members that the organisation has already invested in during initial years of technical training and learning the ropes of their business.

It is not just high-flying future leadership prospects this issue relates to. Hard-grafting, reliable team workers are just as hard to retain, and just as sorely missed if they leave. In recent weeks I have been involved in many conversations with clients discussing ways to improve staff retention and it seems to be a minefield of possible strategies, including:

  • Financial and non-financial elements of employment packages
  • Self-selected perks and benefits
  • Flexible working practices
  • Periodical sabbaticals
  • Reduced hierarchy
  • Streamlined bureaucracy
  • Regular internal communications
  • Recognition and praise
  • Buddies from a similar level and mentors from a senior level
  • Rapid responsibility and autonomy
  • Early and open career conversations
  • Clear vertical, horizontal or diagonal progression routes
  • Robust skills development pathways
  • Establishing resonant organisational mission and values

At First Intuition we are seeing more and more employers of accountants recognising the huge value of the clear progression and learning plans that most trainees have while they are studying for their qualifications. Many are now coming to realise that replicating that same level of clarity and structure in their team members’ post-qualification development pathways is a great way to demonstrate how far their career ambitions can be fulfilled without the need to look for another employer.

It is clear that attracting and retaining qualified accountants is an issue felt throughout the industry. To delve deeper into the topic Gareth John hosted a forum on the topic. The session was joined by a panel of expert speakers who gave their advice on how to keep staff engaged and loyal when they qualify, plus how to be as appealing as possible to experienced candidates in the marketplace looking for their next role. Catch-up on the session here.

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