There is now a weight of evidence, both anecdotal and empirical, that those leaving school and university are lacking the skill sets desired by employers. According to a survey from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants of firms taking on school leavers, three-quarters of such recruits needed significant training before they were ready for work. This skills gap is not restricted to one sector or industry. Many fields are suffering, and nowhere more so than the finance function.
Analytical and people skills have been noted as particularly lacking among the new breed of workers. A CEB report noted that ‘Finance and its HR partners have become adept at recruiting accountants and [other] technical professionals who have learned how to apply new regulations quickly to financial statements and manage short-term variation in their careers. However, very few professionals have been taught the skills that will help them succeed in a more judgment-based role, which also requires advanced analytical and interpersonal skills.’ People skills are now particularly important for those in finance because of the need to develop partnerships with other departments, and work effectively together. Many of the traditional ‘bean counter’ roles are also now taken by technology, and finance staff are required to be more analytically minded than they were before and add value in other ways.
The skills gap is only likely to increase in the upcoming years. As baby boomers begin retiring, their contribution to swelling the workforce will come to an end, and they will pass the baton to Generation X and Y workers. According to new research by leading recruitment specialist Robert Half UK, 74% of finance directors worry that the skills gap resulting from this mass retirement will have a negative impact on their organizations over the next two years.
There are a number of reasons behind the discrepancy between the skills needed and those existent in candidates, and there are a number of ways that firms can help narrow this gap. For example, they can partner with universities to ensure that students in the necessary field are being taught things genuinely valuable to the workplace. They can also offer apprenticeships and mentoring, as well as training and development programs to current workers.
These are, however, longer term solutions. They take time to implement and carry out, and in the fast moving world of finance, this is time that they do not have. In the short term, organizations require a strategy that allows them to compete for the little talent that is available, and retain what they have.
Before developing this strategy, it is important to establish who is in charge of recruiting finance. CFOs and others in the finance team need to be involved in the process alongside HR. They also need to answer a number of questions about what they are looking for. What are the most important skills finance leaders of tomorrow need today? These are constantly changing as technology develops so fast, and many millennials have the skills in place to better deal with this shift. It is possible that you are looking for a candidate to have skills that simply won’t be needed in a couple of years.
Attracting candidates is also important with so many fish competing for so little plankton. Companies must cater for the different expectations that millennials have of their employer. Millennials have a reputation as lazy and narcissistic, but surveys suggest that this is not the case.. They have still been shown to want professional development and have a clear path up the ladder. They are more than willing to work as hard, and a work/life balance is often not the primary thing they are looking for. Most millennials actually cite higher compensation as their top priority, followed by ‘more comprehensive benefits’, and ‘career opportunities.’
The alternative to seeking out millennials is putting your efforts in to holding on to the older employees that you already have, at least until longer term solutions like training programs have born fruit. Keeping baby boomers in work is a challenge, but things like enhancing benefit program and offering flexible and/or part-time work arrangements are often successful.
However firms choose to seek out talent, the key is outlining what is needed from employees and helping them to get there. This cannot be left to HR, and the two departments must work closely together to ensure that the right candidates are coming in.