What AAT’s Salary Survey tells employers

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The key themes that employers need to know about when hiring.

AAT’s 2023 Salary Survey has provided a comprehensive snapshot of a profession grappling with a range of challenges – and offering a greater range of opportunities.

From evolving working patterns, pressure on earnings, increasing burnout and a growing drive to move up the career ladder, accountants of all kinds are facing a whole new raft of questions. How do they want to structure their working lives? How important is salary when compared to other benefits? What about the chance to study and progress in their careers through professional training and qualifications?

For employers, the questions are similarly pressing. What does a competitive salary look like? What benefits are most compelling in a dynamic labour market? What do newly qualified accountants look for in a role?

Salaries are rising

The headlines are clear: the survey paints a positive post-pandemic picture of remuneration for AAT membership, with a 14% increase in average salaries for the two-year period from 2021 for AAT’s students and non-licensed members. Meanwhile, salary progression is again evident this year as members move along the membership journey, with the greatest increase being between Level 4 and full member stage – where on average membership carries a 35% jump in average salary.

So it seems that those in the profession are being well rewarded. And certainly, a closer look at the salary levels reveals that employers are increasingly willing to reward good performance, with a much greater proportion of members receiving a bonus in the last year (36%) compared to the percentage actually on a bonus scheme currently (25%), indicating that employers will often give discretionary bonuses.

AAT salary survey

Find detailed insights on salaries, benefits, job satisfaction, job security and work-life balance in our 2023 survey.

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Retention is high

One of the biggest headaches facing employers in a tight labour market – alongside upward pressure on salaries of course – is retaining their best people. In that respect, the survey offers some reassurance: more than three-quarters of responding students or non-licensed professional members (79%) plan to stay with their current employer over the next 12 months, up just 1% on 2021. Less than one in 10 plan to move outside the industry.

So what is driving that high level of ‘stickiness’? It is surely the case that healthy retention rates reflect some uncertainty among accountants over the state of the UK economy, leading many to conclude that the grass may not be greener on the other side of the fence when it comes to moving jobs. It is also likely that more employees are held in place by the benefits on offer from current employers.

Benefits are growing in popularity…

The survey reveals the changing face of the landscape when it comes to employee benefits. Comparing the company benefits on offer this year compared to 2021, the proportion receiving each one has gone up for all benefits except the Parental Leave package (-1%) and stock options (same %). Following this trend, the percentage that don’t receive any benefits has dropped back by 11% to 2019 levels at 8% this year.

Overall, it should be said that career plans related to moving jobs and employers have remained fairly consistent over the years. Interestingly, although figures do vary for different age groups, the largest group of respondents in each age bracket still plan to stay in the same job with the same employer across all ages. That’s 47% aged 19-24, 45% aged 25-34, 59% aged 35-44, 68% aged 45-54 and 67% aged 55+.

…but the ones supplied are not always the ones in demand

However, not everyone is happy, and some benefits are more in demand than others. Comparing the company benefits currently received and those most desired, the biggest discrepancies are for private health care (56% desired, 27% receive it) and flexi-time (52% desired, 28% receive it).

The picture is similar for AATQBs, where once again private healthcare is the most popular benefit – but the discrepancy between those wanting and receiving is the widest. It’s in the Top 5 benefits for 56% of respondents, compared with 24% who currently receive it from their employer. This is followed by an incentive for becoming an AAT professional member: 6% currently receive this compared to 28% who would like to.

Key elements to attract new employees

There will always be movement in the jobs market, of course, and it appears that employers need to adapt to reflect the prevailing trends among professionals. To understand those trends, respondents were asked to pick up to three key elements which would attract them to a new employer or job.

Salary and flexibility (such as hybrid working) stand out as the two main elements. Indeed, 85% rate salary as the biggest factor, with flexibility (56%) the next most important element. Those are followed by the chance to progress within the company, and the overall benefits package on offer.

The issue of flexibility is especially pertinent here, given the unsettled post-Covid landscape, where some employers struggle to get staff back into the office while others fully embrace the remote model.

Anecdotally, professionals are struggling: “Difficult to find work from home opportunities or ones that can fit in around school hours,” one reported, with another seeking “Hybrid working and part-time hours locally- I have disabilities.”

Employers are feeling the strain

Employers must grapple with these issues. But while employees have their complaints, it’s not an easy time for those looking to hire staff. Quantity and quality are both concerns. “There is a lack of candidates training/or having trained in the AAT qualification in Somerset. The bigger firms tend to be able to recruit, but it is harder for smaller firms,” reported one employer, while others cited the lack of quality staff – not lack of applications.

Recruiting further down the career also seems tough: “Difficult to find staff interested in bookkeeping and payroll,” reported one hiring company, with another complaining of a “Lack of candidates especially with any accounts experience.”

Christian Doherty is a business journalist and freelance writer for AAT.

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