Why a shortage of management accountants is creating opportunities for process staff

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Recruiting good management accountants is particularly challenging – the alternative is to upskill, but not all staff find it easy moving into analytical roles.

Recent research suggests accountancy is one of the areas suffering most from skills shortages, with 73% of businesses reporting difficulty hiring. And accountancy struggles more than any other area to fill senior positions, with 38% of firms finding it difficult.

While the ‘great resignation’ is real and millions of people have left their jobs, job seekers are looking for the right working conditions for them. Another survey by Otto found that the vast majority of office workers (74%) want some kind of flexible or fully remote role, but ‘flexible’ means different things to different businesses.

For those finance teams looking for more management accountants, the alternative option is to upskill and promote process staff into more analytical roles. This is a big step up, however, and not all process-orientated staff will be able to adjust.

Our member panel discuss the opportunities of upskilling, and their advice on how to move from a process to an analysis role.

It’s the people with a passion for analysis who do best

Björgvin Vigfússon, MAAT AATQB, finance manager, Westmorland Linen and Laundry

The market for management accountants has always been fairly competitive and recruiting can be a bit tricky. But if the role that is being recruited is well specified and the recruiters know what knowledge/experience is required of the candidate, it makes the process easier. My opinion is that companies should never stop upskilling their workforce because of the benefits to the team.

Working in analytical roles isn’t for everyone, just as working in tax isn’t for everyone. One the challenges of developing staff into those roles is that you need to find a person who enjoys this sort of job. Once you pass that hurdle, you know you have an enthusiastic person, and with good guidance and training, you can develop a valuable staff member who is happy to do a job that some accountants aren’t too keen on.

The ‘pub story’ version of my own journey is a “series of wrong turns and mistakes”. The true story is, having worked in previous teams where analytical skills had room for improvement, I decided to try and develop my own. With a fair amount of trial and error, many articles, webinars and podcasts later, and speaking to people who work in the field, I slowly but steadily managed to develop my own skillset.

I have the mindset of “I know a good amount, but I also know that I don’t know everything, and there are some things I don’t know that I don’t know”. I try to keep my CPD up to date, I follow industry websites like AATcomment and accountingweb, listen to podcasts and attend events in person and online. I try to encourage my teammates to do the same, without being too pushy.

My advice to accountants who want to move into analytical roles is simple: try to do one thing today that will help you develop the skills that will be useful in an analytical role(or any role you want to move into). If you can do two, perfect. Speak to your line manager and ask what sort of skillset they need and jobs they would like to fill. If that role and skillset is of interest to you, show enthusiasm for it. If you can prove you’re up for the challenge, you’ll hopefully find yourself doing the job soon.

We need to create time and space to learn

Andy Murray, MAAT AATQB, finance lead, Manna Pro

My company’s ethos is always to promote within. We always ensure that employees have the opportunity to apply for any new job openings, which are initially posted internally. I think this is really important and something I stand by strongly, if we were considering adding additional resources to the team my first thought would be to look at individuals’ personal development goals vs hiring a new starter. From experience I find employees stay in jobs where they feel engaged and empowered to grow within.

Balancing operational demands while creating time and space to learn is a constant challenge. During a period of organisational growth and expansion, the need for upskilling into specialised areas becomes increasingly magnified. Priority is often given to the day-to-day transactional duties, which are of course essential before any analytical works can be carried out.

Within the first three months into my role, I undertook a review of the operational service pressures and created an action plan to address these within an agreed timescale, this enabled improved efficiencies in the day-to-day accounting functions allowing professional development time to be reintroduced. Over the coming months, I will twin-track staff development and the preparation of a business case for both current and additional resources, therefore underpinning the long-term growth of the organisation.

Where time allows, I undertake CPD as part of my working day. However, the required amount of CPD often exceeds the time available to me therefore I combine this with personal tasks such as household chores whilst listening to a podcast or watching a webinar.

For those looking to move from process to analysis, I’d recommend the 3 E’s:

  • Be eager – Allow your open-for-learning attitude to shine through by taking a keen interest in every aspect of the finance function.
  • Be energetic – Demonstrate your commitment through a natural energy, a willingness to go the extra mile, allowing peers to see a return on their investment in your professional development.
  • Be excited – Developing yourself through career progression is a fantastic achievement, make sure you take the time to recognise and celebrate your successes and allow those who helped develop you to celebrate with you.

Factor training as a percentage of payroll costs

Clare Elliott, FMAAT, CFO, ILUX

There’s a famous quote: “What if we train them and they leave? What if we don’t and they stay?” and another by Richard Branson “Train people well enough so that they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” And I really like these – they embody what we should be doing in business.

While training is time-consuming and costly, the business will reap the rewards as people become more efficient and effective at what they do, and how they do it.

Companies also benefit from upskilling as they don’t have to continually recruit, which is a significant factor at the moment due to unemployment being low and the pool of available people in the marketplace being reduced. It’s always more costly and time-consuming to bring someone new into the business than to upskill a current employee, as much of the learning initially is about the business and the clients. However, that depends on availability within the business.

If the business is growing rapidly and new roles are required, there will be no choice but to recruit. Then it’s important to ensure you are recruiting at the right level, with the new recruit adequately skilled enough to hit the ground running, especially where time is of the essence.

It’s important to ensure enough is being spent on training. A great, and very simple, way of setting your training budget is to calculate it as a percentage of your total payroll costs. Obviously also comparing to previous years, and increasing as per specific requirements of the business at the time, or individuals that require external training courses. While we all want to keep budgets low, a training budget shouldn’t be underestimated for the returns it can give to an organisation.

Getting broad and commercial skills can be a challenge

Farha Jamadar, FMAAT, finance manager, Todd Doors

The market is inundated with many candidates who would be able to do analytical roles. However, as we are an SME, we need all-rounders; people with experience in many things. That experience is not always available, so prioritising what is needed becomes important. Those broad skills we require will enable them to upskill and develop their role.

When moving someone into an analytical role, there may not be understanding or emphasis on the bigger picture. They must develop communication skills and be able to deliver information with commercial acumen.

It’s about ensuring these skills are developed for everyone within finance, as these are the skills that enable you to develop and give the organisation added value. It’s about understanding how your piece of work affects strategic decisions.

I ensure I understand the commercial needs and external factors around the organisation. I make sure I am able to utilise this at work, which allows the quality of my work to be of a much higher calibre.

My advice for others would be to think about the company you work for: what are they doing, and how does the work you do affect that? Align your goals to that and practice communication – it is the most important skill to have in finance. We are here to tell a story and give senior management the information to ensure the company is successful.

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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