The accounting skills most in demand

There are big opportunities for candidates who are well qualified in understanding data and understanding how it works for a business partner.

Employment and salary prospects for accountants are healthy across the board, but professionals with up-to-date expertise in data collection and analysis are most in demand, say recruitment specialists.

By James Gallaway

“We are in a situation now,” says David Cawley, Sydney-based regional director of recruitment specialist Hays, “where the reporting and regulatory side is more and more automated. There are big opportunities for candidates who are well qualified in understanding data and understanding how it works for a business partner.”

Accountancy increasingly follows the mantra that it acts as a business partner and adviser, as data-driven commercial decisions infiltrate every aspect of business enterprise.

“The skills we see as cutting edge now – blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning – are going to be taken for granted in five years’ time,” says Cawley.

“Things are changing that quickly. About 5 per cent of the jobs will go and about 60 per cent of jobs will lose about 30 per cent of their work [to automation] – so it’s all about finding out which productive activities can fill that space.”

Related: Blockchain – how does it work?

Strong demand for accountants in public practice

Benjamin Jotkowitz, director at accounting recruitment specialist Benneaux, sees healthy demand for accountants in professional services and public practice.

“Usually, candidates need about three to five years in business services. Less than that, they don’t have enough experience and any more and they’ve got too much experience,” he says.

Staff for external audits are in demand, “though it’s obviously seasonal”, along with people with tax and self-managed super fund experience.

Cawley agrees that candidates should look to professional services and public practice.

“Nowhere is a business partnership more relevant and important than public practice, particularly in rural and suburban areas, where smaller communities require greater levels of trust.

“This is the area where practices set up MYOB and other processing that allows clients to self-manage. So it comes down to working with businesses to help generate better revenues,” he says.

Related: Staff retention – small accounting practices have scale on their side

Accountants: what are you worth?

Hays’ 2018/19 Salary Guide outlines increased demand for skilled accountants. Those most highly sought after include business analysts and management accountants who are highly skilled in project work, big data finance specialists, and those who can support the transition of accountancy to a more digitised and automated future.

The guide, which surveyed 3000 organisations and 2.3 million employees in Australia and New Zealand, found 65 per cent of employers will give accountancy staff a pay rise of less than 3 per cent in their next review.

Cawley is, however, seeing increases above 6 per cent for people with proven skills who are prepared to move into the small- to-medium enterprise sector and smaller start-ups based on disruptive technology.

Anyone with a strong accounting background who is prepared to map out directions in a team will succeed in one of these businesses, he says.

Other areas of particularly strong demand include financial controllers and credit control securing a business’s cash flow.

Payroll is experiencing huge demand.

“It’s often an area people don’t see as a strong career option, and, generally speaking, it’s older people holding positions, but we are seeing massive skill shortages in payroll,” says Cawley.

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Flexible work in accounting

Employers are also taking a good look at flexible work practices during times of considerable change, as an incentive to retaining people, says Cawley.

He describes flexwork as “massive”, but stresses that it is “a balancing act for a lot of leaders who require face time to be effective”.

Jotkowitz sees candidates coming from the Big Four firms where they were recruited as graduates.

“After about four years, they’re looking for a better work-life balance and are happy to be placed in a mid-tier firm,” he says.

Better-rounded candidates are more valuable in the current climate and “employers are looking for candidates that have Australian experience and understand the context they are working in. International candidates don’t do so well, we find.”

Jotkowitz also points out that while data is an important driver of commercial operations, he is sanguine about its ultimate reality.

“You can’t automate a CFO,” he says.

Read next: 5 hiring trends in the accounting and finance profession

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October 2021
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