Going back to school is the way forward for accountancy

The hangover from the financial crisis continues in the professional sector, with a dearth of talent in the market '“ and firms across the board are feeling the pinch.

Joanne Brooks, head of human resources and training at Scott-Moncrieff. Picture: Contributed

Lack of talent is one of the top concerns in accountancy at the moment, and it is driving up salaries, sparking fierce competition and long-term, setting the industry up for a difficult future.

So, the accountancy sector is getting creative, and leading the way in the traditional professions when it comes to growing new talent.

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Some firms, including ourselves, have gone back to school, specifically targeting this year’s leavers in a bid to attract fresh talent through our doors, and into the sector as a whole. The move harks back to the days of apprenticeships and time served – but for today’s generation, it’s a modern move.

These clever, tech savvy, entrepreneurial Generation Y-ers will, ultimately, take the profession forward and getting a head start is high on their list. Choice is expected, and deciding to start a career directly from school is about a hunger to get on the career ladder, and a recognition that the traditional University route isn’t the only way into a top job these days.

Gen Y-ers are a bit different. Many want fast, they want now, and they like learning on the job, not in the classroom. If their career is not moving forward, it’s standing still, and they don’t like that.

In some cases, it’s all about the money. Firstly, as any budding accountant knows, the numbers need to stack up. Starting work early and avoiding the huge debt taken on by students makes apprenticeships a smart option. Earning while learning is also very attractive to a “buy now” generation, and getting on the salary scale earlier rather than later helps achieve demanding material ambitions.

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They are a workforce that don’t want to wait. And, making sure that they can still work for professional qualifications while on a school-leaver programme, means that they will often reach their goals quicker than their contemporaries attending University, with years of experience in an office environment (and earning) under their belt to boot.

For firms such as Scott-Moncrieff, taking on school leavers on apprenticeship programmes, the benefits travel in both directions. Boundless energy, an entrepreneurial approach and tech knowledge are all key to the future of the accountancy profession, and we will learn as much from our joiners as they will learn from us.

It’s good for other trainees too – for the graduates, having school leavers around gives them some early people-management experience, and for the summer interns, they have a ready-made peer group within the firm. The fact that the pot of learners are at many different stages means they can often have more meaningful exchanges of information.

For any sector experiencing a hard time bringing new talent into the market, considering school leavers could be the way forward. Entry-level recruitment isn’t an either/or scenario – a mix is key to success. The aptitude and attitude of “millennials” will change the face of business, and embracing this early really is the making of the future.

• Joanne Brooks is head of human resources and training at accountant and business adviser Scott-Moncrieff