This article was first published in April 2011 in Accountancy Futures
Although the past few years have been turbulent, many organisations see promising signs on the horizon. But one area that remains as elusive as ever is the competition for star talent, which will only intensify and test even the most proactive talent management programmes.
Companies are aware that they need to attract, retain and manage key accounting talent. Accountants underpin oversight and supervision in an increasingly global regulatory environment, and help organisations manage risk effectively.
However, talent shortages in the profession are already apparent, the result of shrinking numbers of new entrants, the failure of educational systems, and universal competition for the star performers.
Young professionals are a vital source of talent. Currently, the people coming through are those born between 1980 and 1993, who have been dubbed ‘Generation Y’. Research by ACCA and consulting, outsourcing and investment services provider Mercer has uncovered the fascinating traits and motivations of this group of tomorrow’s financial leaders, and the dramatic implications for business. Employers who fail to understand what drives Generation Y professionals will also fail to recruit and retain them.
Most Generation Y professionals have grown up with the internet, mobile phones, laptops and social media. They are an extremely confident generation; they value security but will walk away if their employer can’t or won’t deliver their career path.
The research, Generation Y: Realising the Potential, surveyed 3,200 individuals across 122 countries. It reveals a generation seeking dynamic career paths, both inside and outside traditional mainstream finance careers.
Money and more
Make no mistake: money matters to this age group. But while they seek out competitive packages they also want a total package. As well as money, they are looking for work-life balance and a career at an attractive brand that reflects their own values.
Experiential learning is crucial. Employers and Generation Y professionals themselves both see it as key to developing the essential financial skills. It’s a tech-savvy generation, but face-to-face learning still resonates.
Career development is front and centre for Generation Y, and employers need to put development at the heart of their career proposition. This is a generation that values job security but will leave the company if career promises are not fulfilled.
Exciting careers are in heavy demand. Generation Y professionals want interesting and exciting careers, either inside finance or, increasingly, outside, using their valuable finance skills in a different capacity in the wider business environment.
In the wake of the global economic crisis, organisations of all sizes and in all sectors have turned to their finance departments to help chart a pathway to recovery and to influence and shape business strategy. They accordingly face an uphill battle in attracting and retaining these valuable workers. According to the study, most Generation Y finance professionals are satisfied with their current role but are concerned about the future.
Half believe their organisation is not able to offer them sufficient career development opportunities, and one in three wants to change employer – now. Unless employers effectively manage career expectations and development, they face a significant retention risk, particularly when global economic conditions improve.
An effective career management process will combine three factors: transparency, control and velocity. Generation Y professionals want the transparency of knowing their options and alternatives inside and outside finance.
They want the ability to exercise some control over their roles and experiences. And they want velocity to move quickly through those roles and experiences to gain a sense of progression and self-defined success.
Organisations have a range of tools to help here. They can showcase the career paths available. Career maps, which offer employees knowledge and control over their own career paths, are also worth considering. A career map shows how the organisation wants people to progress, and is designed by working backward from a destination job to identify the feeder jobs that will let staff get there.
Another type of career map is built on data about how and how quickly people move through roles to reveal the pathways that employees actually take to that destination job. This type of career mapping often reveals pathways the organisation wasn’t aware of and provides information about how long it takes to follow a particular career path.
Employers can create career opportunities by restructuring work and moving people out if they reach a plateau or are underperforming, or through proactive churn. It’s also worth considering expanding secondment programmes and stepping up rotational activities to provide face-to-face courses and experiential learning.
The lessons employers must learn from the research are clear. Lifestyle factors are more important than contractual elements in attracting Generation Y through the front door. The organisation’s brand, and the values it represents, are equally important. Remuneration must be pitched competitively as part of a wider attraction proposition.
Career development is key to attracting, developing and retaining this generation of finance professionals. Employers must ensure they understand what career paths are available in the organisation and communicate these clearly to prospective employees.
They also need to deliver a range of learning interventions to leverage the skills of Generation Y. Successful retention translates into a better return on training investment and lower recruitment costs.
The biggest challenge facing organisations over the next few years will be the creation of value. Today we live in a knowledge economy, where information is key to value creation. Value will be created by people, ideas and the brand, and Generation Y finance professionals will be leading the way.
Mercer is a leading global provider of consulting, outsourcing and investment services, with more than 25,000 clients
Jason Jeffay manages Mercer’s consulting strategies in talent alignment and strategy, workforce architecture, leadership development and succession planning, performance management and employee value proposition and culture. He has more than 20 years of consulting experience, and is an author and speaker. He has sponsored and participated in leading-edge HR research, and has an MBA from the University of Chicago.
Recruiting and retaining Gen Y professionals
Top five attraction factors
95% Career development and learning opportunities
87% Remuneration package (base salary)
83% Nature of role
81% Job security
81% Work-life balance
Top five retention factors
64% Career development and learning opportunities
56% Challenging work
48% Remuneration package (base salary)
47% Relationship with line manager
45% Team morale