As Labour Shortages Worsen – Accounting Firms Must Prepare

Brexit is creating labour shortages all over the UK, including within the accounting industry. Since no one can know what will come next, here’s what firms can do to prepare themselves to face whatever the post-Brexit labour market will throw at them.

As we creep ever closer to a potential hard Brexit, it’s getting more and more difficult for UK businesses to meet their skilled staffing needs. Although many of the worst labour shortages have been to the engineering and healthcare sectors, the accounting industry hasn’t been spared. Already, three in ten hiring managers report facing competition when recruiting for finance and accounting professionals, and most experts believe that the problem is about to get far worse.

Aside from potentially being cut off from foreign labour, Brexit also has driven up the demand for accountants across every other industry, as businesses try to get their financial houses in order before the split. For accounting firms, this means that time is running out to devise and enact a multi-pronged approach to meeting labour needs post-Brexit. Here’s how to best approach this necessary business task.

Invest in technology

One of the best ways to help offset a labour shortage is to reduce the business’s need for additional staff. To do so, it may be necessary to invest in new technology to boost the output of existing employees. Today, it is possible to leverage new communication tools and automation technologies to streamline operations and increase productivity without increasing staffing levels. This is a big part of the strategies of the big four accounting firms, who are betting on AI solutions to revolutionize the industry within the next few years.

Increase flex-work programs

After working on increasing productivity, the next thing accounting firms can do to address their labour needs in a challenging market is to take steps to make themselves more attractive places to work. One of the best ways to do that in today’s competitive hiring environment is to adapt existing business processes to allow for more flexible working arrangements. PwC has already done so with their Flexible Talent Network, which is helping them to access untapped labour pools such as the semi-retired and stay-at-home parents. That provides them with a recruiting edge that others in the accounting industry would be wise to emulate.

Expand retention programs

Increasing productivity and tapping new pools of labour work well, but the progress made in those areas can easily be undermined if existing employees are lured away by other firms facing labour shortages. To combat attrition, it’s a good idea to create or expand employee retention programs to keep existing staff in place. This is best accomplished by offering the most generous benefits packages possible and focusing on increasing employee engagement in all aspects of the business. Efforts in this area are especially critical at the executive level, where increasing competition makes the risk of poaching a very real threat.

Create internship and apprentice programs

Since it is always easier to find or replace lower-level employees, it’s an excellent idea to create internship and apprentice programs as a means of bringing in new talent and upskilling them within the firm. When done right, such programs create a steady pipeline of candidates that can be promoted up through an organization to fill openings as they occur. That goes a long way towards eliminating the need to look outside the organization for anything other than entry-level employees.

Plan for the worst, hope for the best

As of now, it’s impossible to say with any certainty how Brexit will eventually work out. All that business leaders can do is to continue to make plans with a worst-case scenario in mind. Such a scenario may entail severe disruptions in the labour market, so no effort should be spared to prepare for such an eventuality. No matter what happens, however, the steps outlined above will create a healthy, productive workforce for any firm that chooses to enact them. That means they’ll be in a far better business position, which will put them at an advantage no matter how the political situation develops. In a way, that may make today’s challenging environment a blessing in disguise for many in the accounting industry, as it will force all involved to run tighter, more efficient operations – and that’s a good thing, no matter the underlying cause.

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