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Young accountants ponder future job prospects post-lockdown

What will be the job prospects for younger accountants post-COVID-19 lockdown? Two 30-something New Zealand-based practitioners talk careers, working from home and what the future may hold.

Nina Hendy | August 2020

It is hard to retain confidence when thousands of jobs have already been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic and New Zealand prepares for a second wave of losses. 

Figures released by Statistics New Zealand reveal that the number of jobs fell by a record 37,000 – or 1.7 per cent – in April 2020 alone, representing the biggest monthly fall in percentage terms in two decades. 

Unsurprisingly, young practitioners are rattled. As they emerge from lockdown, many are now seriously pondering the economic future and what it will mean for their career prospects.

Impacts to the profession are inevitable

Alaina Smith CPA, aged 34, is a senior manager at New Zealand-based accounting and advisory firm RWCA

“It would be naïve to think the COVID-19 situation isn’t going to impact our industry in some way,” Smith declares.

She hasn’t heard of job losses in her profession in Nelson but has heard stories from colleagues in Wellington and Auckland about accountants being out of work. 

“Fortunately, I’ve had some experience working from home as I have very young children, so that wasn’t as much of an adjustment for me as it was for others,” she says. 

“Juggling work and children stuck at home was a different story, though.” 

Career prospects in accounting: a mixed bag

While comfortable that his position is safe, with multiple new clients being added even through lockdown, Daniel Soeteman CPA, aged 35, practice manager at Biz Solutions, describes broader career prospects in accounting as a “mixed bag”. 

He says a few of his industry colleagues have already expressed concern about keeping their jobs. 

While it was great to be at home spending time with his family, having kids constantly around presents its own set of distractions, he says. 

And while government grants and assistance packages can help struggling accounting firms survive, it’s down to individual firms to cope during this difficult period, he insists.

“People are getting laid off or their days [are] being reduced in some cases, which when you play this off against the other side of too much work, it smells a bit like some firms are taking opportunities to cut costs or remove some dead weight,” Soeteman maintains. 

“It’s a very uncertain period, and no doubt [there is] a lot of stress attached to it in terms of job security. I would think juniors or those in the job less than 12 months would be fretting the most, particularly during the lockdown period as they may not necessarily have had the skills to be left to their own devices.”

Skills in demand for accounting and finance professionals

The latest Hays Job Report covering January 2020 to June 2020 reveals good news for young practitioners who may have lost their jobs this year. The report, which is updated twice a year to reflect changing market conditions, earmarks accounting and finance as sectors with the most skill shortfalls. 

Hays New Zealand managing director, Adam Shapley, says vacancy activity for skilled finance professionals is strong. Skills in demand in the next six months include commercial business partners, risk and compliance professionals, data analytics and interpretation experts, as well as those with group consolidations and reporting abilities. 

Over one-third (35 per cent) of employers surveyed in June are currently hiring. The survey of more than 1100 employers also revealed that just 19 per cent currently have a recruitment freeze in place. Of course, now that the new financial year has ticked over, that freeze could thaw.

“But there are wider macro issues at play that will dictate the success of a jobseeker this year,” Shapley says. “The key trends for professionals who, regardless of their role or industry, [is to] possess strong interpersonal and creative skills.”

Employers also want people who can make data-based decisions, adapt well to change, and be continuous learners, he says.

Top three priorities in the sector

Shapley urges young people not to give up, saying finding a job is itself a full-time job.

“While it will likely take you longer to find a job at this point in time than in normal circumstances, provided you create a strong CV, prepare well for an interview and prove your skills and experience, young accountants in the industry should be able to secure a good role in time.  

“Those who are hiring said the top three priorities in the accountancy and finance sector are financial accounting and reporting, budgeting, and data analytics roles. With many industries remaining active, we’ve seen a slight uptick in recruitment in these key areas, which is good news for accountants at any level with relevant expertise.”

Upskilling is crucial

Candidates should highlight their relevant skills and experience by tailoring their application to each role, Shapley says. 

Graduates need to highlight as a priority a desire for upskilling, particularly in ways that won’t break the bank. This could include following industry leaders on social media, attending webinars, listening to relevant online content like TED Talks and podcasts, joining an industry or professional association, and asking to stretch opportunities in their current role. 

Young accountants should also seek to develop their soft skills, with employers currently prioritising communication, adaptability, and teamwork abilities.

“Make sure you quantify your skills throughout your CV and in an interview too,” Shapley says. “This is very important since employers are less likely to take a chance on a candidate right now, and instead want someone who can prove they already have the required skills.”

He recommends jobseekers follow four steps when planning their job search: reflect, refine your next move, get to work, and plan your week. The Hays Job Search Planner can help you complete these four steps so that young accountants feel better equipped to take control of their job search, Shapley summarises.