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Accountancy recruitment outlook remains upbeat

Written by: ICAEW Insights
Published on: 21 Jan 2021

Despite a record hike in the overall number of UK redundancies, specialist accountancy recruiters remain upbeat for the sector, predicting an upturn in demand over the coming 12 months and salary increases buoyed by ongoing skills shortages. 

The UK unemployment rate rose to 4.9% in the quarter to October and layoffs soared to a record 370,000 in the three months to October as the government scaled back its furlough scheme (before the decision was made to extend it). This brings the UK jobless total up to 1.7 million people, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Lee Owen, Director at Hays Accountancy & Finance, said it had been a tough year for all industries, and accountancy and finance were no exception. “However,” said Owen, “sentiment from our clients about the long-term prosperity of the sector is somewhat upbeat. Most are expecting their activity levels to increase or stay the same over the next 12 months and there is optimism about the health of the wider economy.” 

Owen said he expected employers to roll out targeted recruitment strategies over the next 12 months as they looked to fill skills gaps. “Aside from prerequisite technical skills, we’ve seen a real demand for professionals who are strong communicators, able to adopt change and good at problem-solving. Given these skills shortages, it’s unsurprising that many employers have increased salaries – a trend which will continue into the New Year.”

According to the Hays Salary & Recruiting Trends 2021 Guide, 88% of employer respondents said they expect their organisation’s activity levels to increase or stay the same over the next 12 months. More than half - 54% - said they plan on recruiting staff over the next 12 months and three quarters said they had experienced skills shortages in the last 12 months. 

Meanwhile, 45% of employee respondents said they would be tempted to change role due to the salary or benefits on offer, with the same proportion feeling there is no scope for progression within their organisation. Hays says job seekers should remain open-minded and flexible about the direction of their careers. 

“The pandemic has caused surges in demand across sectors such as pharmaceuticals, technology and FMCG resulting in a ramping up of recruitment requirements over the course of the year,” Owen said. “Job seekers may wish to target those more buoyant sectors to uncover unexpected opportunities – which could be the ones to propel your career.”   

Continual investments in professional development will stand candidates in good stead, Owen added. “Those who are refreshing their skillset on an ongoing basis will be the ones who thrive in our changing world of work. Take advantage of any training opportunities offered by your employer, as well as looking at online courses, podcasts and reading in your own time.”

Chris Hickey, UK CEO of Robert Walters, said macro factors such as Brexit being concluded, the newly elected US President starting his term, and COVID vaccines being administered, would provide a positive springboard for the rest of the year. The Robert Walters Salary Survey 2021, due to be published in January, anticipates pent-up recruitment demand across a number of sectors and the highest rates of salary inflation in four years since the Brexit vote was passed.

“Senior professionals with expertise in restructuring and turnarounds will be in high demand as the UK initially emerges from its recessionary market,” Hickey says. “Experienced individuals that are able to communicate effectively to provide training and advice to more junior staff will also be highly valued as the markets begin to pick up and transition into a growth cycle.” 

Meanwhile, the market for CFOs and financial leadership roles witnessed a rebound in hiring activity from early summer - a trend set to continue into 2021, according to headhunter Odgers Berndtson. Duncan Hoggett, a partner in the CFO Practice, said the pivotal role finance had played in helping businesses navigate through the crisis had stood it in good stead. 

“Initially, this centred on securing liquidity, implementing furlough schemes and securing other government support. However, as the crisis has unfolded it has also accelerated a number of structural changes across a range of sectors. Finance will continue to play a critical role in helping businesses to transform and adapt. There’s a lot of companies looking for specific, senior-level finance capabilities to deliver turnarounds, support M&A activity or lead digital transformation programmes.” 

Accountants with the right mix of skills – particularly AI and Digital Transformation – will continue to be in demand. “We have no doubt finance professionals will play a lead role in the way businesses engage and deploy these exciting technologies,” Hoggett said. “Accountants should be accumulating these skills now so that they are able to thrive in the future jobs market.” 

Finance in a Digital World: a suite of online learning modules to support ICAEW members and students, develop awareness and build understanding of digital technologies and their impact on finance.