How to attract young talent to your business

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In the first of a two-part series, experts advise on the best methods to attract and retain a junior team.

The recruiting problems faced by many accountancy firms over the past decade show no signs of abating. According to one recent survey by Intuit QuickBooks, 92% of accountants have experienced hiring challenges in the past year.

Recruiting talent at all levels has been difficult (such as the talent shortage created by senior professionals retiring), but finding junior candidates is a particularly sore point for many practices and finance teams. This is partly down to the pandemic upending the education and formative work years for many young people (big four firms such as KPMG and Deloitte now offer extra classes on soft skills for new trainees) but also down to the changing expectations from younger generations, who are demanding a greater sense of work/life balance. Indeed, according to the 2023 Accountancy Salary Guide, 38% of employers find it difficult to recruit first-year trainee accountants, up from 17% in 2022 last year.

As such, businesses are also having to coax young talent by offering perks such as barista-style coffee and flexible working (in March 2023 alone, more than 1,400 UK job postings mentioned “an early-finish Friday” as a benefit for potential recruits, according to data gathered by job search engine Adzuna).

Big changes in recruitment

Even the way young people find out about jobs is changing, with 50% of graduates finding their current role through TikTok, according to the 2023 Accountancy Student Recruitment Report published by training providers First Intuition. The recruitment woes don’t end when a trainee accepts a job offer: many firms have reported candidates reneging on the role; some even sent out goodie bags to successful recruits as a reminder.

50% of graduates are finding their current role through TikTok

2023 Accountancy Student Recruitment Report

“The labour market is horribly tight right now: everybody wants to recruit more,” says Gareth John, chief executive at training providers First Intuition. “Employers are now forced to ‘take a punt’ on candidates they wouldn’t have previously offered a job. Some are even over-recruiting because they know candidates will drop out [for other jobs]… but it’s worth pointing out many young adults face financial challenges, and a few extra thousand pounds can make all the difference when facing inflation, high-interest rates and the difficulties of getting a mortgage.”

Below a range of bosses and experts share their tips to find accountancy professionals among the younger generation, In part two, we’ll look at how to attract career changers and more mature students.

Where to find talent

Local schools and colleges

Amy Carter, Development Manager, Kirk Newsholme: “We don’t use recruitment agencies, but have good networks with local schools/colleges instead. We attend careers events and open days in the local area; events aimed at years 12/13 work the best.”

Duncan Crooks, Talent Acquisition Manager, Price Bailey: “We take on around 35-40 apprentices a year, a mixture of school-leavers and graduates. For school-leavers, we give presentations to local schools, plus attend careers fairs, employability sessions and careers carousels.”

Advertising on job boards

Carter, Kirk Newsholme: “The AAT jobs board is fantastic. Also, Ucas is no longer focused on graduates: they also have a free jobs board for apprentices.”

Apprenticeship fairs

Carter, Kirk Newsholme: “Many councils also run regular apprenticeship fairs. At events such as the Leeds Apprenticeship Recruitment Fair, our stand is sometimes five-deep [in interested candidates]. We take some of our trainees to these events: students always want to speak with them, as it shows what they could be achieving in a year’s time. We also use QR codes to get candidates’ names and details: students simply get out their smartphones and scan it. We can then add them to our mailing list, so if a vacancy comes up, we can email them.”

Social media and LinkedIn

Crooks, Price Bailey: “At school, many students are told they need a LinkedIn presence, and that’s reflected in the number of applications we receive from the platform. Today, most of our applications come from LinkedIn, meaning we no longer rely on job boards. Price Bailey is on TikTok, too! But we’re hoping to make it more targeted by tagging videos, so if somebody’s looking for accountancy apprenticeships, they’ll find Price Bailey’s content.”

Internal referrals

Crooks, Price Bailey: “Referrals are big for us. We’ve got a generous scheme, paying £1,000 for every trainee referral hired.”

Carter, Kirk Newsholme: “If somebody in our professional network knows of a friend or family member considering accountancy, we engage with them to see whether they’d benefit from joining us for a day of job shadowing.”

Make your firm attractive

Promoting the perks

Carter, Kirk Newsholme: “We have Pizza Wednesdays, where we have free pizza in the boardroom. You can see candidates’ faces light up when we tell them about this! We also promote social gatherings on social media, whether it’s Pizza Wednesday, an axe-throwing event or a night out at Roxy Ball Room.

Sustainability and CSR initiatives

Carter, Kirk Newsholme: “If you speak to young people at careers fairs, you’ll find sustainability issues are important to this generation. Be clear about your sustainability credentials on your website, such as whether you’re paperless, you recycle or car-share. If you have any volunteering projects, include this – and any photos – on your website/social media.”

Staging internal events

Carter, Kirk Newsholme: “Consider hosting your own event. Kirk Newsholme holds an annual Accountancy Insight Evening at our offices, where candidates can listen to everybody from senior managers to the newest trainees. We also have training providers talking about qualifications, plus breakout rooms where candidates can chat with trainees.”

Video applications

Carter, Kirk Newsholme: “Because young people love using videos, we’re considering using video applications. Candidates could upload a video alongside their CV; it could be a good chance to see how their values align with ours.”

Crooks, Price Bailey: “We currently have a shortage of audit and tax trainees. Whenever a candidate ticks a box that they want to do tax, I get quite excited! However, we’re now thinking we need to create videos with tax trainees.”

Creating the job advert

Language

Crooks, Price Bailey: “Even though our workforce is a 50-50 split, we’re trying to get more female trainees. We use Textio [software which helps employers write bias-free job descriptions] which replaces any words deemed too masculine, such as ‘determined’ and ‘challenging’ with less male-biased alternatives.”

Carter, Kirk Newsholme: “Keep job adverts short, snappy and think about how young people communicate. There’s a lot of jargon in our industry: you can easily lose engagement with potential candidates if you use it.”

Should you include salary details in the advert?

Carter, Kirk Newsholme: “We don’t include salary details at trainee level because we find school-leavers are less interested in salary and more interested in progression and the environment they’ll be working in. If they have a question, we’ll be honest with them… If you really want to disclose salary details, make sure you’ve researched local salary surveys across your sector first.”

Who to recruit

Do recruits need to have a finance background?

Crooks, Price Bailey: “Price Bailey is subject-agnostic. Yes, it’s great if applicants have accountancy, maths or economics A-levels, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Candidates don’t need to start talking about balance sheets and cash flow in the interview; they just need to show they’ve got a strong academic level that they can build upon with soft skills. We do ask for a minimum of 112 Ucas points for school leavers, though.”

Finding a good cultural fit

Carter, Kirk Newsholme: “Identifying candidates who have the same values as our firm is essential in gaining a new long-term member of the team. For us, it’s about personality and whether they will slot well into a team and get along with people. Our interviews are predominantly about gauging the ‘fit’ of the person for us and our clients.”

The interview process

Consider your approach

Carter, Kirk Newsholme: “We have an initial informal video/remote interview with candidates first. It’s a relaxed introduction: you can see how you get along with them, gauge their character and if they’re easy to talk to. After that, there’s a second, face-to-face interview with a manager, where we can see whether they’ve researched the company and tell us about a time they’ve faced a challenging situation.”

Crooks, Price Bailey: “We ask trainees to take a numerical test. Pass that, and then they’ll have a verbal reasoning test. If they meet that benchmark, we do a video interview. We then review all of that alongside their CV. If they meet that benchmark, we invite them to an assessment centre for more tests, including a group exercise involving a scenario based on a fictional business (which they’ll have to present).”

Gareth John, Chief Executive, First Intuition: “Don’t assume job candidates know how to approach a job interview. Let them know beforehand that they should research the company and prepare some questions. Some employers even email candidates the questions they’ll be asking in the interview! Yes, this might feel like cheating, but it gives candidates a fair chance to prepare.”

Post-offer phase

Making sure they start

John, First Intuition: “A couple of years ago, a young adult would accept a job offer straight away, and the employers wouldn’t need to worry until they turned up in the office on day one. Now, when day one arrives, employers often find their recruit hasn’t turned up because they’ve reneged on the job or got a better offer! That’s why employers are finding it more important than ever to maintain engagement with the candidate in the ‘pre-start phase,’ i.e. the period between making the offer and their first day in the workplace.”

Carter, Kirk Newsholme: “It’s important to have a good onboarding programme. Kirk Newsholme recruits in May/June, with candidates not starting until September. We also bring recruits into the office to meet our team and take them out for coffee. I also keep in touch via email and phone calls and check how their A-level results have gone. We also send out goodie bags too! These usually have branded water bottles, notepads, pens, sweets, plus a leaflet about our company culture.”

Christian Koch is an award-winning journalist/editor who has written for the Evening Standard, Sunday Times, Guardian, Telegraph, The Independent, Q, The Face and Metro. He's also written about business for Accounting Technician, 20 and Director, where he is contributing editor.

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