Post-lockdown recruitment outlook

With many countries passing beyond the peak of the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic, lockdowns are easing, economies reopening and finance recruitment heating up.

Neil Johnson

‘The first few weeks of lockdown saw the biggest impact on recruitment as businesses and practices adjusted to new remote ways of working,’ says James Brent, director at Hays Accountancy & Finance. ‘Now that we are moving out of lockdown, businesses and practices have started to gain confidence with their hiring intentions.’

Which will be welcome news to finance students and professionals who, like many, will have experienced some form of disruption in their working lives, be that operating out of home offices, reduced workloads or client demand, furlough schemes and redundancies, or the pervasive concern around how businesses, organisations and economies will recover – will people’s jobs still be there by the end of the year?

A time to reflect, now a time to act

While this is certainly a difficult time, it has also proven to be one in which people are reflecting on their careers, says Marcus Williams, associate director at Morgan McKinley. ‘The time at home has given people a chance to reflect on their position, their company and how they’re being treated.’

For example, some employees may have become disillusioned by bosses insisting they come into the office during lockdown, while others will want to continue to work from home and will look for opportunities to do so. Others will see this as an opportunity to leave a role they’ve not been happy with for a long time and being at home has given them more freedom, time and space to do something about it.

This is leading to a significant rise in the number of good candidates open to new opportunities, continues Williams. ‘People are not sat next to their boss, so they can take a call and have more time to talk about potential moves.’

Now while this may sound ominous from a job hunter’s perspective – that competition is growing with more senior and high quality candidates entering the market – the demand for finance professionals will grow after the initial shock of the crisis.

Sectors to watch and skills to shout about

‘Naturally some sectors are further ahead in their recovery than others, with practice recruitment generally picking up faster than commercial, as many of their clients have needed extra support and advice with funding, loans, insolvency, acquisitions and mergers,’ says Brent.

‘Aside from specialist skills pertaining to different finance functions, employers across practice and industry will be recruiting for leadership and change management expertise to help stay ahead of change and challenges ahead,’ continues Brent.

Ultimately, the businesses that have shown agility and see change as opportunity continue to thrive and are still recruiting, says David Wilde, divisional manager – accountancy and finance at Randstad UK. ‘Whether that be altering what they manufacture in some cases to providing much needed PPE, or by providing the technology to mobilise their workforce to maintain business as usual.’

Indeed, while news during the crisis often focuses on the industries that are struggling, there are those that have performed well and those seeking to maximise the easing of restrictions, creating demand for certain finance skillsets.

‘Leisure, travel and hospitality sectors have struggled, while pharmaceutical, FMCG, food, technology and businesses with strong internet presences have generally flourished in terms of hiring finance professionals,’ says Brent. ‘Demand for technical accounting roles has remained strong, while demand for analytical, systems and data jobs looks set to increase as we move out of lockdown.’

Within group finance functions, Williams has observed an increased demand for more reporting and management information from stakeholders and shareholders who want to know what’s happening with their money. ‘We’ve definitely seen a majority of advertised positions around financial reporting,’ he says. ‘The amount of detail that’s going into year-end reports is quite significant, which is justifiable in a difficult economy – people want a greater level of detail and shareholders want transparency.’

In banking, Brent has seen an acceleration towards the fintech revolution, with banks expanding their digital offerings and new digital banks springing up. ‘Roles in this area have certainly flourished since the onset of the pandemic and will continue to do so throughout the year.’

Wilde also notes that financial services appear to be in a good place to recover quickly. ‘Many of our clients have utilised government retention schemes which proved essential and we’ve seen few redundancies. Organisations that have adjusted to changes in the consumer landscape are attracting the best talent.’

Who’s hiring who?

There has been a noted tilt towards organisations focusing finance recruitment on the more senior levels, hoping to find people who can hit the ground running and bring experience to bear in a time of crisis. That being said, coming out of lockdown there is growing demand for non-qualified roles too.

‘Although the situation continues to change rapidly, we have observed a recent demand for non-qualified roles, including assistant accountants, finance assistants and management accountants, and senior finance roles including management accountants, financial controllers and finance managers,’ says Brent.

Williams says that professionals with good technical understanding of financial reporting standards will have an edge over others, while he also notes that a solid finance business partner skillset – identifying cost cutting opportunities and providing robust reporting – will also place you strongly in contention for roles.

‘[Accountants] are going to have to be business partners,’ he says. ‘Getting a good accountant who is able to communicate financial information to non-financial people is going to be absolutely key, because companies are going to be very strict around their finances and it’s imperative that accountants aren’t making mistakes. So a technically strong accountant with a good commercial skillset is what every client is looking for. They will need to be advisers who come up with ideas around budgeting or forecasting, for example.’

One of the areas in which Wilde is noticing a slight increase in demand is tax. ‘Tax experts have the ability to provide a real opportunity in changing times for cost savings and efficient planning,’ he says. ‘Partnering NHS organisations are still recruiting and there is still an appetite for candidates with experience from the Big Four practices, who have the ability to use their knowledge and skills to hit the ground running.’

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