Blog: Q1 intensifies squeeze on Scotland’s accountancy talent

Travis Sinclair

Travis Sinclair, a consultant in HRC Recruitment’s accountancy and finance team explores a Scottish accountancy labour market characterised by limited supply and high demand


It’s hard to judge an entire year by the first quarter. The recruitment market takes a while to get going again after the holidays and hiring tends to pick up towards the end of February and March, as budget-setting season approaches.

But, this year might turn out differently. All the indications so far suggest that Q1 2018 may just encapsulate exactly how the rest of the year pans out, with many companies on the hunt for new talent but finding it difficult to identify suitable candidates.

Nowhere has that been more obvious than in the accountancy sector – there’s a real shortage of people actively looking to move roles or for temporary and contract positions.

To some degree, it’s a reflection of the entire UK economy: we have record highs of employment and all-time lows of unemployment. That’s obviously great news for workers, but it comes with some challenges for businesses – particularly companies in need of highly-skilled professionals.

Accountancy is increasingly falling into that category and it’s forcing many firms to reconsider their proposition to candidates. For example, in a marked break with the past few years, flexibility has become one of the main differentiators between accountancy roles.

While that’s been a notoriously difficult benefit to provide in the sector, given the requirements of the job, it’s now becoming more frequent among job offers – especially as accountants move away from being seen as a compliance function and towards business partnering.

While it’s a slow market at most levels, there’s a particular pinch point for candidates in the 3-5 year part-qualified range. It’s a knock-on effect from 2013, when there was a smaller intake at most accountancy firms – which itself was a result of the financial crisis five years prior.

Limited supply and high demand usually precipitates one outcome in recruitment: rising wages. In Scotland’s Central Belt, salaries for accountants have been on the up for four years, and they look likely to continue on that trajectory for the remainder of 2018 – it’s one of the most competitive markets we’ve seen for some time.

The upshot in many cases is that companies are more eager than ever to keep hold of their people and, as such, counter offers have become the norm. Going into any negotiation, we now fully expect a candidate’s current employer to make them an offer to stay.

That wouldn’t have been the case four years ago – there were more people looking for work and more candidates with experience. However, businesses are now realising that it’s becoming increasingly difficult, and in some cases almost impossible, to replace seasoned staff.

The prevailing wisdom seems to be that, as far as predictions go, the remaining three quarters in 2018 will be SME-led. There’s been a lot more movement at this end of the market, with companies consolidating their teams and preparing for a host of forthcoming challenges.

Nevertheless, one of the most prominent among these will undoubtedly be people – companies keeping hold of the accountancy talent they already have and attracting the best from elsewhere. For that reason, it’s seldom been more important for businesses to think differently and reassess their people strategies.