Is The Great Resignation the biggest obstacle for accountants in 2022?

Letter from an employee saying they quit
By Jim Scott | 7th January 2022 | 3 min read

Already faced with a skills gap before the pandemic, accountants, like many businesses now face “a once-in-a-generation ‘take this job and shove it’ moment”. 

That’s the phrase labour economist Lawrence Katz has used to sum up what is being described as ‘The Great Resignation’, with large swathes of the workforce quitting their jobs and moving to pastures new. 

Randstad UK, a recruitment firm, reported the results of its survey of 6,000 workers late last year, which showed 1 in 4 were planning a change within three to six months. That’s compared to what it would normally expect – just over 1 in 10 per year. 

Talent trouble for accountants 

Our research found nearly half (49%) of UK accountancy firms are facing “huge blows” to growth amid the ongoing skills and salary war that is raging across the sector.  32% cited the current skillset in their firm as a barrier to growth in the next 12 months.  

Indeed in 2021, 74% of accountancy firms said they were “feeling the strain” from a lack of skilled workers, Search Consultancy reported.  

Listening to accountants, it is eye opening how many firms are being affected. It is truly an employee’s market and recruitment/retention of staff could be one of the biggest obstacles to success in 2022. 

How are accountants tackling the challenge? 

Nicky Goringe Larkin, Founder of Goringe Accountants, recently told our community publication Your Accountancy Life that her firm is “seeing a real shortage of trained professionals at the moment.” 

She says: “I want to overcome this. Training is key to us and the survival of the practice and the profession. Who will be the senior managers in 10 years’ time? There is a talent gap and we see both the need and potential to grow our own.” 

Developing its own talent has become critical for North-west-based practice NR Barton Chartered Accountants, which established its own training academy, spanning entry-level roles right through to professional qualifications.  

Director Neil Whittingham told Your Accountancy Life: “The world of accountancy is changing and evolving all the time, so the academy is essential to the future of the firm. We had realised this some time ago, but the pandemic certainly prompted us to accelerate our plans and bring trainees in over the summer to build the academy. We spotted certain skills gaps within the team. We knew that bringing trainees through was vital, and the programme is proving so successful. We are growing our own accountants here!” 

Another firm putting an emphasis on developing talent in-house is Milsted Langdon who recently revealed in Your Accountancy Life it had made seven promotions in one go. Rachel Hotham, People Partner at Milsted Langdon, says: “We now have many Directors and Partners who have trained with the firm and risen through the ranks to the top of the profession.” 

The way forward 

Is seeking to nurture in-house talent and building graduate and trainee programmes the way forward?  What else can accountants do to combat ‘The Great Resignation’ and to win the talent war? 

I feel that the industry must now look to create a culture with flexibility and hybrid working to attract and retain the best talent. Importantly too, firms need to empower teams with the best tools available to help their people thrive, wherever they choose to work. New starters, and even many who have been in the profession a while, expect consumer-like technology in the workplace and won’t think twice about leaving for a digital-first firm if technology and culture don’t meet their expectations. These tools and software's must make the mundane, easy. They must make the compliance fast. And they must create opportunities to add value.

Ultimately the tools, combined with the flexible approach to work help to establish an environment where value is created for both client and employee. One where these two things meet to deliver a far more intimate client experience and a greater level of engagement.

This in turn, allows the practice to add value beyond the compliance work and begin the march towards far more insightful, tailored solutions and experiences. This not only benefits the client, but also provides the accounting team delivering the services you offer, the space and ability to think entrepreneurially and creatively.

For more tips on how to retain and attract talent and other ideas for successful recruitment, watch our recent Webinar with HR specialist Caroline Gammon.