Skip to main content

In 2016, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) undertook a major program of research to understand more about the work preferences, career aspirations, and behaviors of younger professionals—Generation Next—working in accounting and finance.

We wanted to understand the key implications for employers and, specifically, how they attract, develop, and sustain talent. The study was primarily based on a survey of over 18,600 participants under the age of 36 from 150 countries.

The findings suggest that younger finance professionals today hold ambitions for fast progression and rapid career development. Encouragingly, it also found this group is well equipped to deal with changes driven by globalization and technology because they deeply value the opportunity to learn and gain a breadth of experience in their current roles.

Building on the 2016 study, ACCA has now taken a closer look at the aspirations of younger accounting and finance professionals working for small- and medium-sized practices (SMP). A new report explores the strategies SMPs can adopt to access the talent they need to thrive. It is the second of a four-part series of reports considering challenges and opportunities in talent management across a range of sectors in the profession. The first report took a closer look at the aspirations of young professionals working in shared services today (see previous Gateway article).

The new report, Generation Next: Managing Talent in Small and Medium Sized Practices, shares the key findings from the nearly 1,300 younger professionals working in SMPs who participated in our original Generation Next survey.

  • A platform for long term career success. Working for an SMP is recognized as a platform to build a successful long-term career. The overwhelming majority of those working for SMPs further agree that finance experience will be valuable for future business leaders.
  • Pay and progression are important but it’s the whole package that matters. Pay and career progression opportunities are important but work-life balance and flexible working arrangements also score well, suggesting that a broader range of factors are important.
  • Mobile but “stickier” than Generation Next as a whole. While SMP respondents in general are keen to move quickly between employers, there appears to be more “stickiness” to their roles at the outset of their careers, where they spend longer than the total Generation Next population.
  • Looking for a way out in the longer term. The majority of respondents are keen, at present, to take advantage of the learning and development opportunities available in SMPs but in the longer term they see working for an SMP as a springboard into other sectors.
  • Job satisfaction is holding up. Just under half (48%) of those working for SMPs report being satisfied in their current role. This is aligned to job satisfaction among the total Generation Next population, suggesting that SMP employers are not falling behind other sectors. There is some variation across different countries, however, with job satisfaction lower in developing economies.
  • Learning works best when it is personal and practical. On-the-job training and mentoring are the most-used learning activities across the SMP sector and, encouragingly, are also seen by Generation Next employees in SMPs as the most effective.
  • Lack of available roles and pay restrictions represent the largest barriers. SMP respondents identify a lack of available roles and insufficient reward as the two largest barriers to career progression.
  • Reinventing the SMP service offering. Among Generation Next employees in SMPs, 80% agreed that technology will enable accounting and finance professionals to focus on higher value added activity. This suggests that respondents see some good opportunities for innovation through technology.

Using these findings, ACCA conducted a series of interviews and roundtables with SMP employers globally. The subsequent insights were used to develop recommendations on how existing talent management strategies within the sector could be improved.

  1. Create a compelling employee proposition. Employers should develop their organization’s proposition to younger people. This should be framed around the potential benefits to their long-term career prospects.
  2. Reach out to younger people. Targeted recruitment could be conducted by developing partnerships with local schools, colleges, and universities to showcase the value of a role in the SMP sector.
  3. Become a registered training practice. This initiative could demonstrate an employer’s commitment to providing staff with excellent learning and development opportunities.
  4. Invest in formal development. Recognizing that for many SMPs internal training resources are constrained, creating more structured activities could radically improve development opportunities for staff.
  5. Think succession: build transparent career paths. For some SMPs, the limited size of their organization may make it challenging to offer a variety of different roles and opportunities as part of a structured career path.
  6. Introduce reverse mentoring. This could help to build relationships across the employee base and build new skills for all.
  7. Push “intrapreneurialism.” Entrepreneurship entails personal risk, so employers should promote the advantages of practicing entrepreneurial skills “intrapreneurially” to identify new growth opportunities.
  8. Focus on creating the right behaviors. For the SMP sector to thrive, staff need to be encouraged to engage proactively in the same challenges that their employers face.

These findings clearly hold significant implications for the future of talent in a rapidly changing sector. As SMPs face greater competition from other sections of the accounting and finance profession in attracting and retaining younger professionals, it is vital that employers respond to the work preferences of Generation Next.

Read the full report: Generation Next: Managing Talent in Small and Medium Sized Practices.

Our next two reports will be published in the first half of 2018, with a focus on managing talent in accounting firms and the public sector.

Ben Baruch

Head of SME Policy, ACCA

Ben Baruch is ACCA’s Head of SME Policy. His interests include access to finance, alternative finance and payments technology. He has authored numerous policy documents and publications dealing with wide-ranging subjects relating to SMEs including access to banking, late payment, business support, digital tax policy, FinTech and various aspects of government policy aimed at improving the small business environment. He has spoken on small business development issues at numerous external events as well as having been interviewed in the UK for The Financial Times, City AM, BBC Radio Four and BBC Radio Five Live.

Prior to joining ACCA, Ben worked as the economy, finance and tax policy lead at the Federation of Small Businesses in the UK. He previously worked in financial services policy across the banking, insurance and private equity sectors. Ben has also worked for the UK Parliament on behalf of several Members of Parliament.