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Much has been written about “millennials” or “generation next” but what are the implications for the accountancy profession? In April 2016, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) set out to give an unbiased ear to the career hopes and dreams of young professional accountants—ACCA members and students up to the age of 36. Our survey was answered by over 18,600 participants from 150 countries.

Our survey suggests that millennials in the accountancy profession are well equipped to deal with change driven by technology and globalization. They have a global outlook, often expecting to work in another country in their next role or at some time in their careers.

The report, Professional Accountants – The Future: Generation Next, pulls out eight key findings that give us valuable insights into this young generation of accountants.

  1. Finance experience is a valued platform for their future career. For the youngest in the profession, starting their career in the profession remains a smart and relevant move. They are attracted to the profession not only for its long-term career prospects (43%) but also for the opportunity to develop and use a broad range of skills, both within and without finance. Eighty-five percent of participants agreed that a background in finance will be valuable for organization leaders in the future.
  2. Generation next are very mobile. Almost 50% of the respondents have been in their current role for less than two years, 70% of respondents want their next move to be a promotion, and 61% will look externally’ or ‘will look to move externally’. That is a challenge for employers. When we asked, How quickly would you like to move? 70% indicated within two years.
  3. Progression is key for attraction and retention. The generation is focused on developing their careers and attaining new capabilities. “Opportunities to learn new skills” came out ahead of “opportunities for progression.” It is the transparency around progression that frustrates respondents—37% disagreeing with the statement, “career paths are transparent in my organization.”
  4. International roles are part of their career strategy. Eighty percent of respondents desire a role in a different country or region. Bringing a more diverse view to the workplace is increasingly relevant and one way of building these capabilities is working in globally based teams or seeking international rotations.
  5. A finance career is not necessarily the end game. Experience in the finance profession is seen as valuable training and as a passport for a range of career possibilities in the profession and beyond—60% suggest they may leave the profession for a more general business role at some point, and a remarkable 81% suggest they may wish to eventually start their own business.
  6. Current roles provide some satisfaction. It is assumed that the generation are unhappy in their current roles; however, 48% of respondents defined themselves as satisfied or very satisfied. They have strong relationships with both their line manager (67%) and team colleagues (79%) and, even though there are variations across key sectors, they generally have a good work-life balance in their current jobs. Remuneration is a different story. 
  7. Experiential learning is most valuable. The generation wants to learn.  They wish to learn on-the-job and to be mentored and coached. Professional qualifications rank 4th in their assessment of effective learning.
  8. Technology is seen as an opportunity. Our respondents expect some displacement of more junior level roles across the profession (57%), but also recognize that technology will enable finance professionals to focus on much higher value-added activity (84%), indicating they are comfortable with the technological revolution.

What are the implications for employers that can be drawn from the survey?

  1. Revisit career paths—Are the career paths transparent in your organization?
  2. Redesign learning and career support paradigms—Gaining skills on-the-job is essential and structured learning programs, the traditional route, are less valued.
  3. Engage the older generation in knowledge sharing—Knowledge transfer and active mentoring are essential.
  4. Allow new ways of working using technology to flourish—Social learning using technology needs to be encouraged from the top.
  5. Rethink succession planning and talent pipelines—Fluidity in the workforce needs to be matched with active talent management programs.
  6. Harness millennials’ digital savvy—Use them as change agents in the organization.
  7. Think diverse, global talent pools—Tap into the internationalism of the generation when considering your skill pool.
  8. Manage expectations, have career conversations—Line managers need to engage with employees honestly.
  9. Rethink engagement—Monitor the effectiveness of your reward and talent management programs actively.

Some of these may be challenges for employers, particularly smaller organizations unable to offer retention incentives such as global secondments or fast-track promotion. Addressing these in flexible ways will enable them to succeed in satisfying the generation’s aspirations.

Whatever this, and the generation after bring, one thing is for certain—the world will always need highly skilled professional accountants, and it is the role of educators and professional organizations to support all generations to build and maintain those skills.

Read the full report: Professional Accountants – The Future: Generation Next.

Jamie Lyon

Global Head of Skills, Sectors and Technology, ACCA

Jamie Lyon is based in London and leads a global team of research, insight and policy experts at ACCA who are dedicated to exploring the most significant issues impacting the business world today. The work of the team is focused across the world covering a number of key areas: analysis on the global economy, the future of technology, the future of work and skills, the public sector, small business, the future role of finance, and risk management and corporate governance.

Jamie also serves as a technical and policy adviser at the International Federation of Accountants in New York, USA focusing on issues such as the future role of the global profession in sustainability and climate change, global talent development, the impact of emerging technology, business transformation, risk management and corporate governance, and the future role of the CFO function.