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In the recent months, all manner of businesses have had to adapt their working practices to the world where human contact is necessarily minimised.

‘Financial firms, too, have become very flexible, implementing remote working policies and asking their staff to adjust almost overnight,’ says Sherad Dewedi, managing partner at accountancy and business advisory firm Shenward.

The virus may have turned our everyday and working lives upside down, but it has also shown us that it’s perfectly possible for whole teams of people to work effectively while not being in the same physical location.

Also, line managers have had to become better at breaking work down into chunks, and that’s another good thing - dividing big tasks into smaller, more manageable parts (or mini-projects) helps avoid stress and boosts productivity.

Hopefully, this new working model will encourage employers to take another look at how they define job expectations and roles, ultimately making flexible working commonplace and bringing in greater opportunity for part-time employment and job sharing.

‘It also instills hope that financial firms will become more open when it comes to hiring less-experienced individuals,’ Dewedi says.

Will the job market shrink?

But the big question is: will there be fewer positions advertised?

After all, the Big Four pared back their recruitment to almost nothing when the pandemic struck and lockdowns were first imposed, and many other financial employers followed suit.

Lately, the big firms have begun hiring again, albeit tentatively, focusing on auditors, consultants and business analysts.

But will they revert to the pre-pandemic recruitment levels? And what about hiring for junior and graduate positions, this and next year?

This does depend on how well the markets and national economies can recover from the effects of the pandemic. Fortunately though, most employers see their graduate recruitment strategy as a tool for building a pipeline of talent for the future, regardless of what that future might hold.

Nicola Urquhart, lecturer in Careers and Employability at Kent Business School, comments: ‘As with the recession in 2008, the indications are that graduate jobs are being less affected than non-graduate jobs. It’s true that there are fewer entry level/trainee positions currently being advertised - companies are holding off making firm decisions about recruitment for the rest of 2020. But this could simply mean that opportunities will be advertised later than they normally would.’

Dewedi says there could actually be more junior and entry-level positions up for grabs in the future. ‘Unemployment rates are already high. I expect that governments will introduce incentives for firms to help bring people back to work, thus opening up opportunities for emplyers to offer a greater number of trainee positions and apprenticeships.’

Digital skills in demand

The nature of these jobs will change, though.

‘On the whole, accountancy jobs are already becoming more analytical and data-driven, and the entry level and trainee jobs will reflect this shift,’ says James Brent, Director at Hays Accountancy & Finance.

He adds: ‘The growth of fintech and digital transformation are showing no signs of slowing down, placing an emphasis on digital skills such as data analytics and cyber-security at every level.’ Professionals with software programming skills are also sought after to help companies implement new technologies.

But what if you need to raise your digital quotient?

Urquhart says you should be able to demonstrate to a prospective employer that you are willing and able to upskill.

She explains: ‘The speed of technological change in finance can be rapid so employers want to be confident that a candidate can keep pace with that change. List any and all IT skills and experience that you have on your CV. Those IT skills are transferable and so, with confidence and time, you can easily master a new technology. Most employers expect to train new staff, provided that you can prove you’re willing to learn.’

Covid-19 will not halt digitisation. On the contrary - it is likely to speed it up and cause the demand for digital skills to soar.

‘A lot of firms will be looking to implement blended working policies meaning that employees may be working from home more often than before the pandemic,’ Dewedi says. ‘For this to work effectively, and for employees to be as productive as possible, firms will need to digitise their processes and services further and so they will look at digital skills as a requirement.’

He adds that, in addition to data entry, data processing and use of accounting software, employers will want you to be able to use instant messaging and video conferencing platforms. ‘The ability to use apps to track and manage workloads will be desirable, too.’

Other skills sought

Brent adds that, in addition to strong communication skills, finance employers will also be recruiting for leadership and change management skills to help their organisations cope with change and challenges that lie ahead.

‘To truly cope with change, employers need adaptable and flexible staff who don’t shy away at the possibility of disruption. They’ll be looking for professionals who lead by example by being receptive to new ideas, being curious, challenging the status-quo and bouncing back when things go wrong.’

Dewedi thinks there will be a greater focus on people’s ability to empathise. ‘Employers will perhaps look at how the individuals handled the Covid-19 crisis, or how they handled other difficult situations in the past.’

Also, with remote working likely to be the ‘new normal’, trustworthiness will be a major deciding factor. ‘Candidates will need to demonstrate that they are not only driven and self-motivated but also genuine,’ Dewedi says.

Employers will also favour candidates who are able to take control of their own learning. ‘Trainee accountants have always needed self-motivation and commitment in order to work and study at the same time, but the ability to plan and manage their time as independent learners has now become even more important,’ says Urquhart.

Digital recruitment

The recruitment process itself is set to change, too.

‘Recruiters have already embraced digital technology in order to work in the new normal - video interviews, for example, are now standard for the first stage of the process,’ Brent says. ‘Looking ahead though, AI might play a bigger part in the recruitment process. We could see facial recognition software used to better evaluate candidates’ responses in interviews, or virtual reality used for office tours.’

Urquhart also believes that much of the recruitment will remain online once the pandemic is over. ‘For example, assessment centres which were once always face-to-face can now be conducted fully online. The likelihood is there will always be some element of face-to-face but this may now occur later in the process.’