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Jamie Lyon, Global Head of Skills, Sectors and Technology at ACCA, leads a team of research and policy experts on key issues impacting the global profession. At a June 2023 EdExchange session, he presented the ACCA Global Talent Trends report, which analyzed 8,405 responses from 148 countries to understand what students and young professionals need and want as they become part of the workforce.
One data point stood out amongst the others, cutting across the respondent base in firm size and region: young professionals are concerned about inflation. Thus, respondents to the survey said they were looking for their wages to relieve some anxiety about the rising cost of living. Ranking what attracted them to the profession, Gen Z respondents in particular mentioned that remuneration and career development were their biggest considerations for a future role. Despite the current talent shortage, respondents across generations considered accountancy a good long-term career with opportunities to gain new capabilities.
Following the presentation of the report, panelists and attendees discussed the report and broader professional attractiveness issues by examining the question of remuneration: can higher salaries help attract more talent to accounting? One panelist, a member of the IFAC Professional Accountants in Business Advisory Group, mentioned that young professionals in the member’s home jurisdiction in Asia used to seek out jobs in IT, but more and more are turning to finance work simply because, recently, finance has been willing to pay a higher salary. This corroborates the Global Talent Trends finding that a high salary may be instrumental in attracting young professionals to the field. However, going into finance does not translate into going into accounting. According to the panelist, young professionals are deterred by the lengthy process of becoming a qualified accountant. People want to go to finance, the panelist mentioned, but accounting has barriers. They also pointed out that there is an image problem associated with accountants. “People don’t think of all the CEOs who are accountants,” they said. Such an image problem may be remediated if young professionals were reminded of the many CEOs who are accountants, and how instrumental an accounting background can be for entrepreneurs.
This image issue is one that might also be remedied with earlier outreach. Another panelist, an accounting professor, mentioned a study that showed that 52% of respondents chose their major prior to entering college. With students gravitating towards certain professions so young, and given the time commitment to becoming an accountant, earlier education programs that demonstrate the value, reward, and impact of a career in accounting are necessary.
In the US, the profession is attempting to address this via legislation. One panelist responded that there are currently efforts to make accountancy part of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum in US schools; namely, the Accounting STEM Pursuit Act, and the STEM Education in Accounting Act. These acts intend to promote career awareness of accounting and authorize states and local educational agencies to use grant funding towards accountancy education through the 12th grade.
On the subject of employee retention, the panelist also pointed out that the personal experience someone has with their team is the primary driver for them staying with an organization or going somewhere else. “We want managers to have human-centered outlooks,” the panelist said. “People should be supported by their supervisors and have a good work-life balance. Not everyone is a good people manager. We need managers to understand how to support people in their lives, not just in their work.” Mental health, the panelist pointed out, was a topic of concern for the young professionals surveyed in the Global Talent Trends report. Part of supporting that mental health and work-life balance is being flexible when it comes to hybrid work arrangements. They mentioned that PwC says employees need to be at work or in work-proximity (conferences, meetings outside of the office) 50% of the time. “All generations find this flexibility helpful,” the panelist added.
Part of that balance, the panelist working in academia pointed out, is giving people a reason to come in: “It’s not just coming in to sit at a desk and go on calls. That kind of work can easily be done at home.” According to the panelist, coming into work should be an opportunity to build connections with co-workers and especially (for younger professionals) with co-workers who can offer some mentorship. But it’s also worth considering how different employees work best. “We need an employee-centered approach,” the panelist added. “If I want to work at 4am because that’s when I work well then, we should offer that.”
In the final Q&A portion of the discussion, one participant mentioned that their jurisdiction is currently experiencing a colossal talent pipeline problem. They wanted to know: have PAOs tried asking new recruits why they are joining the profession?
Another panelist was able to shed some light on the subject. “We have asked. Many of the young professionals PwC have spoken to say that they knew someone who had a positive impact on their life who said they should join the profession. Many also say they have a professor who turned them onto accounting during their first business course. So we need initial business courses to be ‘weed in’ courses, not ‘weed out’ courses.”
Making those “weed in” courses on accounting education accessible from an even earlier point in a student’s education—middle or high school—might help students make connections with mentors who recommend the profession to them, as well as combat the profession’s image problem. Offering higher salaries, flexible work arrangements, and people-centered work environments may also help entice young professionals.
Closing the Q&A, IFAC Head of Communications Jennifer DiClerico emphasized the value in meeting to discuss attractiveness of the profession issues, and the importance of sharing experiences with talent pipeline successes and failures in order to understand how to attract excellent accounting talent.
One way to stay up to date is by watching IFAC’s EdExchange video series with discussions like this with experts in a range of areas. You can view them here.