Why taking a secondment can help you update your skills

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On of the key takeaways from talking to recruiters about their outlook for accountancy and finance recruitment in 2019 and beyond is that the war for top talent is going nowhere.

In fact, it is only likely to heat up in the face of digitalisation, AI, automation and the evolution of professions and business.

The Robert Half 2019 Salary Guide found that more than half of CEOs admit they can’t find the candidates with the necessary skills to help them navigate an increasingly digitalised business landscape.

One of the struggles for employers is that they’re looking for professionals with multi-layered skillsets, including a good qualification and technical grounding, excellent communication skills, ability to analyse data and talk about their findings, a passion for new technology, the ability to advise non-finance people in different departments, great with clients, change managers, process implementors… the list goes on.

While this may sound like a tall order, the upside is that accountants who can meet these skills requirements can command good salaries, while also making themselves relevant for the changing future of work.

What is a secondment?

There are various ways, one of which is a secondment. A secondment is a temporary transfer to another position of employment. They can range from a short-term arrangement of a few weeks, to something more long-term stretching across a number of months. Both SMEs and larger organisations offer secondments, and they can be a great way to increase employee engagement and retain top talent, so they don’t just benefit the seconder. 

Finance professionals may want to consider a secondment to learn new technical skills such as data analysis, or develop an understanding of new technologies, such as AI.

“This can help them stand out from their peers and stay ahead of the digitalisation curve, enabling them to add value to their employer,” says Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK.

“Secondments can help boost your personal brand and visibility within a company. They also provide the opportunity to experience new things – an auditor seeing the client perspective, or a consultant seconding to software developers, for example. This enables the individual to acquire a wider and deeper range of skills, increasing their value to potential or current employers,” he says.

Secondments can take place anywhere. Many people will work overseas during a secondment, which is key considering the increasing demand for professionals with international business experience, a result of the rapid pace of globalisation, digital transformation and adoption of global regulatory and banking standards, say Weston.

Overseas opportunities

“Professionals should seriously consider an international secondment if offered. Many organisations offer new career opportunities abroad, typically in another global financial hub like Singapore or New York. A 9-5 in a different culture helps the individual to learn a new way of working – it shows that they are flexible, adaptable to different management styles and are able to tackle a different set of challenges – whether this is a language barrier or learning a new way of doing things. Working in a new environment or culture also enables the individual to strengthen their ‘soft skills’ like communication, business partnering and strategic thinking.”

Working abroad can also benefit long-term career prospects. Research recently found that six in 10 (59%) financial services leaders believe that an employee’s chances of promotion were improved greatly if they have worked in finance jobs abroad in the past. “Developing transferable skills such as global market expertise and commercial acumen, but also other qualities such as cultural understanding and communication, can be advantageous not only in helping a candidate stand out from their peers with new-found knowledge, but also in bringing fresh perspectives that help shape their outlook and the value they can bring to an organisation,” says Weston.

How to get on a secondment

For those considering taking a secondment, speak to your line manager about the opportunities on offer within your organisation. For those working in smaller firms who have no secondment programme (this could be due to scale or lack of resources), be a trailblazer, try to set one up. This could be with a different department, or even in an other company, one your business works with (a supplier or partner, for example).

If you can sell the benefits of a secondment to your boss, prove that your coming back with certain skills will be a boon for the company, they may go for it. What would really support your proposal is showing that you’ve thought of all problems and questions; organise everything so operations would be unaffected, hand the proposal to your boss on a silver platter, don’t give them an opportunity to say no. Show how your responsibilities will be covered when you’re gone and that how when you come back you’ll be more valuable.

Importantly, secondments aren’t just “time out” from your normal working environment – when applying for a secondment, treat the process as you would with a job interview,” says Weston.

“Approach it in a professional manor, with a clear business case as to why a secondment will be beneficial. If no such scheme exists, then try to have the confidence to pitch it to your boss – it could prove invaluable to your long-term career.”

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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