Generation Next

Jamie Lyon | February 2, 2017 |

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

Director of Professional Insights, ACCA

Jamie Lyon is the Director of Professional Insights at ACCA. Jamie, brings a wealth of experience to his role at the head of a team of technical and policy experts. Professional Insights comments on key issues relating to a range of policy and technical areas. It strives to influence technical and policy experts in governments, regulators, professional bodies and employers across the globe. The Professional Insights team use their combined skills and expertise to demonstrate the value that professional accountants bring to society by creating successful businesses and sustainable economies. The work of the team supports ACCA’s global thought leadership agenda. By working with employers, governments and regulators across the world, Jamie and his team produce cutting edge, practical and accessible advice and insight on the most pressing issues impacting the business environment. His most recent research series, Digital CFO, is the result of an extensive collaboration between ACCA, PwC and leading CFOs. His extensive experience of financial management, corporate transformation, risk management and talent development was gained during his career in industry with a number of leading FTSE 100 businesses including Royal and Sun Alliance and Marks and Spencer. Jamie is a chartered certified accountant with a degree in economics from Sheffield University. And Jamie's passionate about the future of the profession in a very practical way too. He also works with the UK Social Mobility Fund to mentor and support disadvantaged students to enter the accountancy profession. See more by Jamie Lyon

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