Few, if any firms, would not have staffing as their key area of concern at present. Across all industries, the lack of available staff is the main restriction preventing the return to pre pandemic days and the ability to underpin growth through the recruitment of personnel. However, looking at the current situation within the accounting profession, I can’t but help wonder whether we have in part contributed to the current scenario.

I read, with a smile on my face, an article suggesting we need to make the accounting profession attractive again, in fact make it sexy, to which there were a few interesting comments. I was smiling because I remembered as I proceeded though my secondary schooling how dad would point out all the exciting jobs and careers you could have as an accountant. Admittedly, most of them where in industry, rather than the profession, however it would appear that becoming an accountant just really isn’t seen as ‘cool’ by most leaving high school. Furthermore, I’m not sure the recent tragic death of a staff member within a Big 4 firm in Sydney is likely to dispel this image, no matter how many times these larger firms emphasise their expectations in regard to standard working hours from their staff.

Additionally, we are also hearing of the reducing numbers of students studying accounting that will become our future cadets and graduates. These decreases have been taking place in the form of both local and overseas students, albeit the past couple of years wouldn’t have assisted the ability of overseas students to physically attend Australian tertiary institutions. The flip side of this is we have also been hearing of the decreasing graduate numbers that are being taken on by the larger firms, with numbers culled at the start of the pandemic.

Outsourcing / offshoring has been a bit of a double-edged sword. It seemed initially the cost benefits was one of its key draw cards for its use, however these types of resources have become increasingly more popular for firms finding recruitment difficult. For some, particularly those regionally based, this has become the only way of solving their staffing needs. However, it does raise the question of whether this has also in part lead to the current difficulties. The quandary is for a firm or profession that doesn’t have staff, they outsource, and so now that we’re outsourcing, we perhaps put less time into developing future accountants, which does tend to leave a hole in terms of not only the numbers, but also the quality, experience, and qualifications of those available. So, the problem seems quite circular.

More recently I have also been discussing with firms the whole dilemma around meeting requested remuneration reviews of staff versus letting them leave and then having to replace them. Stories tend to go along the lines of a staff member asking for an additional $9K or $10K to match another offer they have received, however the firm declining, believing the staff member is already paid fairly, or above market, by comparison. The staff member does then indeed leave, and the firm is now consulting recruitment agencies, where they pay $15K or more to source a replacement. One school of thought is why not just pay the requested increase and save the recruitment costs? However, another view is that matching or counter offering higher salaries is a dangerous and short-term game, setting a trend that will be replicated into the future come each review time.

But let’s not be naïve. Staff are being head hunted with the offer of attractive sign on bonuses or similar. We have heard from firms where their staff have been approached via social media, both personal and professional accounts, and to a very cheeky extent via the firm’s own e-mail accounts. We are also hearing how some firms have offered positions to new recruits, only to find they are snatched away by other firms before they even step foot in the original firm’s premises. Thus, it is very much a dog-eat-dog world out there at present.

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