Date posted: 26/05/2023 5 min read

How to attract talent in a challenging job market

At a time when recruiting and retaining accounting talent is difficult, employment policies at some firms are having a big impact in getting the right candidates to come on board and build a career.

In Brief

  • The continuing talent shortage means candidates can afford to be selective about the company and the role they select.
  • Certain policies – including maternity leave, flexible and remote working, and career development pathways – can make your firm more attractive to job candidates.
  • Remuneration is still a critical component of any job offer, but wage growth has slowed.

John Burfitt

Accountants may be renowned for their proficiency working with numbers, but even the best may have struggled with the current figures revealing the extent of the skills and talent shortages the profession is struggling with. The ManpowerGroup’s 2022 Employment Outlook Survey found that, globally, accounting and finance roles rank in the top seven positions that are the hardest to fill.

In data from on accounting jobs for the year to April 2023, the volume of job ads has levelled off across the sector. However, ads for business services and corporate advisory roles, financial managers and controllers, and bookkeeping and small practice accounting roles continue to grow.

While job applicants and graduates have their pick of vacant roles, these candidates will also be watching how some firms handle the post-COVID crunch. A number of companies – including some of the Big Four accounting firms – reportedly overhired during the pandemic, and are now choosing to either make some employees redundant, maintain higher staff levels and keep hiring in anticipation of growth later this year, or rein in bonuses for senior staff until market demand catches up again.

Tina McCreery, chief human resources officer at Deloitte Australia, says staff shortages have had a major impact on the company, which is one of the largest recruiter of accounting graduates in Australia.

“We have approximately 900 open positions for talent across our organisation,” she says. “It is a challenging environment for all businesses and we are certainly not immune to this.”

PwC Australia was also reporting 1100 open positions in February 2023, and it’s a similar story in New Zealand, states David Searle FCA, national chair at Baker Tilly Staples Rodway.

“There’s a shortage across the board of professional services,” he says. “We’re doing whatever we can to attract new talent, as well as making sure we can keep our existing talent for longer.”

Many accounting firms are revising existing employment policies to add significant features with the aim of tempting prospective recruits to sign on, as well as retaining existing teams.

“We are looking at how do we attract the best people to come to our firm and choose us,” Catherine Walsh, head of people and culture at PwC Australia, says. “We need to be thinking about the terms and conditions and things we offer that are meaningful to people at every stage of their career and their life.”

Top of that agenda are increased parental and miscarriage leave, expanded skills training, career pathway opportunities, working hours, workplace flexibility, travel, extended leave and, of course, financial remuneration.

Searle says today’s candidates are not backwards when negotiating an employment package. “They know they’re in a short market, so they are very upfront about what they want,” he says. “They will say what else they have seen around and ask if we can match it. That’s happening more and more, and so we have to be clear why our offer, and company, stands out.”

Consequently, the following employment policies are front of the line when sealing the deal with applicants.

Maternity and paternity leave

In September 2022, PwC Australia updated its parental leave policy and added a new miscarriage leave policy.

Paid parental leave was increased to 26 weeks. It can be taken as a block or as flexible time and can be taken until a child is two years of age. Miscarriage leave offers 10 days per annum, with stillbirth eligible for the full 26 weeks’ leave.

“What we want is to create a workplace environment where people can build a career that supports them at every stage of their life,” Walsh says. “We have access to services and support that says we want you to have a great career and personal life by working here at PwC.”

A flexible workplace

At Deloitte Australia, the nine-to-five work schedule was replaced with the Deloitte Experience scheme, which allows the staff to design their working week around their client, team and other personal commitments.

“While these [policies] are not new, we know they are attractive to new hires and to our existing workforce,” McCreery says.

Balance Chartered Accountants in Whanganui, New Zealand introduced the 4.5-day working week. Staff complete their usual hours in a way that suits them, so the practice can close early on Friday.

“We’ve taken on a couple of new staff members since introducing this and the reaction was a positive one,” senior partner Brooke Reuters CA says. “The most important aspect is offering flexibility, which also includes options around working from home.

“Everyone has their own working style, and we like to accommodate that. We make these options known during the interview, so candidates know they’re welcome to discuss them further.”

It’s a concept that’s catching on. In a six-month trial that started on 1 March, Grant Thornton Australia is testing out a nine-day fortnight with no cut to remuneration. The company announced it was trying the new format to improve staff wellbeing, while assisting in attracting and retaining talent.

Greg Keith FCA, Grant Thornton chief executive officer, commented, “With so many of the professional services’ workforce reporting increased stress and health issues, we remain convinced the current system is broken. We will be bold in trying something different as we want a better outcome for our people and our clients.”

Working from overseas

The ability to continue to do your job remotely from locations around the world is proving to be another attractive employment option that many companies are adopting. At PwC, it’s known as Together Anywhere and at Deloitte it’s PlaceFlex. At Auckland’s Baker Tilly Staples Rodway, the plan was rolled out six months ago.

“This has become very popular, as it is a way of allowing people to keep doing their jobs but to do so while they are in another location around the world,” Searle says. “Some of this means there’s a little bit of short-term pain as everyone adjusts, but giving them something they want means we’ll have far happier employees in the long run.”

Training and development

“Development and career pathways continue to be a strong attraction point with candidates,” Walsh says. “New staff don’t just want to come in for the job they’re doing now. They want to see a pathway ahead and they will develop into that. There’s been a big increase in conversations around that area.”

“New staff don’t just want to come in for the job they’re doing now. They want to see a pathway ahead and they will develop into that.”
Catherine Walsh, PwC

At Deloitte, the Building Brilliant Leaders program provides staff with the skills they need to step up into leadership roles, while the Career Pathways scheme is a talent marketplace highlighting available roles locally and internationally.

Searle admits Baker Tilly Staples Rodway found it had to up the quality of its training program to suit the demands of candidates. “We have rolled out an Emerging Leaders program and an Executive Leaders program, and they have proven very popular,” he says.

The matter of money

Deloitte’s McCreery admits remuneration and financial benefits are always part of a conversation with a candidate. “The remuneration is dependent on the job role and skill supply in the Australian market,” she says.

At a time when talented people are in high demand, their financial value is greater than ever, says Craig Du Rieu CA, managing director of financial specialists Lawson Elliott Recruitment. As a result, greater salary demands are being made.

“Candidates are asking for more money and getting it,” he says. “Once, candidates would ask for an extra $30,000 and get $5000. Now, they’re asking for $30,000 and getting $30,000.”

Du Rieu believes this is not necessarily a bad thing. He claims many roles under the $150,000 salary base have not seen a pay increase in years, so many accounting firms are now having to re-examine salary ranges in order to attract talent.

“Some increases we’re seeing are just a catch-up with the rest of the workforce,” he says, “but with the current shortage of skilled people, it has added to the speed of that catch-up.”

“Some increases we’re seeing are just a catch-up with the rest of the workforce but with the current shortage of skilled people, it has added to the speed of that catch-up.”
Craig Du Rieu CA, Lawson Elliott Recruitment

He adds this has proven to be a wake-up call for some firms during the negotiation process. “They know that if they won’t pay up, another company will, for the right person.”