Accountants are officially short on numbers.
It may sound like there’s a punchline coming, but no, recruitment firms say there is a desperate need for accountancy skills and a skills vacuum in the sector.
The first thing to note is this issue isn’t new. There’s a growing finance skills shortage, which is increasing annually to the point where governments are actively concerned. The most recent figures suggest the inability to find suitable candidates costs British organisations alone more than £6bn a year.
Businesses were struggling to find accountants even before the onset of Covid-19; as one snapshot of employers revealed last year – accountancy is one of the hardest-to-fill roles. And unfortunately, the pandemic has only magnified the problem. Where some industries are freezing recruitment or offloading staff, others are struggling to locate the help they need.
Accountants: the heroes we need
Finance operations are the frontline of the company when trouble strikes, and when trouble strikes the entire country (or in this case, the entire planet), the importance of flexible cashflow, forecasting, audits, tax, debt management, and payroll planning are brought into sharp focus.
Inside some of the world’s largest businesses, daily projections by finance and treasury teams have replaced the monthly or bi-annual meetings of the past. Where previously this may have been the job of one poor soul with an out-of-date spreadsheet, immediate, updated-as-live snapshots of projects and teams, resources, and skills are now a necessity.
We really didn’t want to say the B word either, but there is no getting away from the Brexit-shaped blob that is awaiting accountants in any market which deals with UK clients, with all new customs declarations, tax, and border complications that still haven’t been figured out.
Pausing to take stock of every penny coming in and going out was probably not top of the agenda at the start of 2020, but with so many uncertainties ahead around debt collections, turnarounds, pivots, and exits, accountancy skills are going to be even more valuable than ever.
One immediate solution, something the largest accounting and auditing firms have explored, is outsourcing. However, that carries a whopping bill too, with some estimates topping £230m annually just to hire extra help.
So, how exactly do you bridge the skills gap?
Throwing money at external resources is not for the faint-hearted, and for smaller firms may not be feasible at all. Either way, the upshot is your firm doesn’t address its own shortfall, and may even be blowing the budget when low-skilled resources are sent to tackle high-level work, or vice versa.
What many accountants have realised is the best way to attract, retain, and nurture the best talent, and to figure out what they need to grow as a practice, is to look inward. Letting automation guide planning, resource, and skills mapping not only saves time and money, but it can rescue projects and even save careers.
Optimised project planning can help give real-time estimates for jobs, so you’ll know exactly what your requirements are, how much billing you can expect, and where to divert resources if necessary.
The ability to reshape an engagement or a budget on the spot, pick out the exact resources and allocate them at the speeds required today is not something a human can do – cultivating those talents and focusing on development is.
Put simply, letting the machines do the heavy lifting frees you up to become a better accountant. You’ll have more time to focus on making your practice more attractive to clients who are looking for something different, and you’ll increase diversity and productivity amongst the workforce by doing so.
No more wading through Excel spreadsheets for hours on end to see who is available, or sending out company-wide emails to beg for help. The right employee with the right skills and availability, who may previously have been lost in a blur of pivot tables, is automatically front and centre through centralised resourcing.
Being in complete control of your resource mapping means you’ll be able to carry out running repairs, such as reshuffling or retraining existing members of the team, or potentially scheduling your hiring cycle more effectively.
Put it this way: if firms want to remain competitive, they have to take every advantage of digital technologies available, and apply them in innovative ways to support their teams.
Accountants are never more vital than during times of crisis. Using technology to augment their skills, support their development, and strengthen their ability to help plot a course through the current uncertainty may be the smartest decision you make.