Jennifer Warawa, EVP at Sage
Talent scarcity and the skills gap have become very real concerns in the UK. We are currently in a period of high employment, and at the same time, uncertainty surrounding Brexit has caused a reduction in immigrant labour, reducing the talent pool further. For accountancy, the skills gap issue is even more acute because it is already an industry with a very limited talent pool. When asked to describe an accountant, it is likely that many of us would describe a very similar person. For a variety of reasons, accountancy as a profession attracts a very specific group – often male, university educated, usually from a Russell Group university. Hiring from such a small pool means that the squeeze on talent is even tighter in this sector.
Recent Sage research shows that 90% of accountants worldwide believe there has been a cultural shift in accountancy. While traditional bookkeeping skills remain important, there is a movement from a transactional industry to one focused on consultancy and partnerships. As the profession itself is shifting, the traditional training and hiring processes need to adapt to encompass the different skills required to fulfil these roles.
To tackle talent scarcity, much of the focus in accountancy so far has been on upskilling existing employees or finding innovative ways to attract talent from abroad. Although these are valid ways to combat the skills gap, accountants can go further.
The benefits of a diversified workforce
By broadening the pool of potential employees to include a wider skillset and then investing more in training these employees, businesses can mitigate the impact of talent scarcity by discovering talents that standard hiring practices might not uncover. Rather than looking for homogenous talent, HR professionals hiring accountants can go further by shifting their focus to redefine the types of candidates that they consider to be desirable, as well as how they train them.
Sage’s new Practice of Now research has found that a third of businesses are actively looking to diversify their workforce. With the current shortage of the skills that are needed to build a modern, digital firm, accountants must build a workforce that goes beyond the traditional accounting heartlands—one that makes use of individuals with a broader range of skills, and from a broader range of backgrounds.
By broadening their definition of what makes a good employee, businesses can equip themselves with a wider array of skills and viewpoints. This is useful from a strategic standpoint as it enables the company to provide a more complete picture of client needs. From an operational perspective, it also gives access to valuable, non-traditional skills like data science and coding. Additionally, a diverse range of backgrounds and skillsets brings with it a wider base of experiences and viewpoints, enabling firms to engage on a consultative level with a more varied client base – which in turn provides the opportunity to boost the bottom line.
Prioritising diversity: practical steps
It’s all well and good deciding that your business is ready to employ a more diverse workforce, but how do you ensure you action this new strategy and avoid falling into old stereotypes and practices? Here are some practical ways to get started.
More and more companies are seeing the value of offering employees flexible working practices and implementing flexi-time or home working. By offering more flexible working practices, accountancy can accommodate the needs of a more varied talent pool such as working mums or carers.
Additionally,by investing heavily in training and upskilling, you can unlock hidden skills in existing employees that they might not have realised they had . This investment will also enable employers to train different candidates so that everyone is adding as much value as possible across the business. For example, having open training sessions could reveal numeracy or presenting skills in employees in roles that aren’t currently capitalising on these talents. What’s more, providing additional training for those who have raw talent but may not have been through the traditional training channels, can help bridge the gap between their background and potential.
Another area to consider re-evaluating is your recruitment process. One interesting method being used by Sage customer Bremont, a UK-based luxury watch manufacturer, is the concept of open application days. The company opens its doors to anyone who wants to try their hand at watchmaking, from high-school dropouts to long-time craftspeople. They are then given technical challenges, during which Bremont gets the chance to detect whether the candidates have the basic manual aptitude required for the job, rather than screening candidates based on their CVs. It then takes on those with potential and invests in training them over the next two years. Hiring in this way also enables companies to consider candidates without prejudice or preconception and therefore broaden the talent pool considerably, ending up with a highly-trained and loyal workforce.
Whichever strategies work for your practice, the main challenge will be the shift in perspective and working practices that are required to accommodate an evolving workforce. HR will need to work with line-of-business teams to help them understand the value that a broader hiring programme can bring the business and how any traditional resourcing challenges can be overcome, for example, in an always-on customer services function.
With a new and more diverse workforce, understanding and knowing your employees is even more complex and important. Data analytics or ‘people science’ will be an essential element of a successful diversification strategy. By using analytics to better understand your employees, facilitate tailored individual KPIs and perform continuous performance management, companies can get new hires bedded in as quickly as possible and ensure that people management processes are as effective as possible.
A more diverse hiring strategy increases the chance that businesses will hire the right person for the right role and give them access to a wider range of ideas and viewpoints. Diversifying hiring practices should be a strategic imperative for the good of the business – the possibilities are huge.
THE EMOTIONAL AND FINANCIAL COST OF WORKING WITH OUTDATED TECHNOLOGY
Slow Tech Could Waste 24 Hours of Worktime a Year
In this digital age, businesses are hugely reliant on technology to get work done. And this is especially the case for one-man-bands and small home-based businesses who may count on a single computer to keep things running smoothly from their home office space.
This said, if the technology at hand is slow or outdated, it could become more of a hinderance than a help. Investing in upgraded tech may seem like a steep expense, however, delays cost time and time is money. In fact, recent research looking at the impact of tech troubles in the workplace found that delays caused by slow technology could add up to a hefty 24 days’ worth of worktime a year per person.
Here’s why keeping hold of outdated tech when its past its best could cost your business in the long run.
The biggest tech hold-ups
Delving deeper into the research, it’s evident that the most time can be lost on some of the smallest of tasks. Simply waiting for your computer to boot up, for example, can add up to 8.8 days of lost time over the space of a year (17 minutes a day), while 8.5 days can be lost to opening emails (16.5 minutes a day). Slow software has the most to answer for, however, contributing 10.4 days’ worth of wasted worktime (20 minutes a day). When you think about your own day rate or that of an employee’s, this lost time all adds up to some serious money, right? Probably more than it would cost to upgrade your tech.
Productivity can suffer too
Glitchy tech may not only cost your business time and money; productivity can take a serious hit too. According to the study, a third of workers admit losing motivation when they have to wait on tech to respond. And this comes as no surprise. When faced with freezing programmes and buffering browsers every day, frustration can build up. And when someone’s suffering frustration, productivity and motivation can drop. As a result, it may turn out it’s not just the tech that is slowing down tasks, but a reduction in employee efficiency too.
Tech expert and anti-futurist, Theo Priestley, argues that the issues caused by outdated tech at work can even have a negative effect on someone’s work-life balance and wellbeing. He explains, “not being able to complete work or feel productive or have a sense of accomplishment in a task can be a stressful experience. And depending on the nature of the work, more often than not, employees will need to work additional hours to compensate for the wasted time, which has a knock-on impact on personal and family life.”
Outdated tech can put your business at risk
Beyond the costs to your business, outdated tech can also put it at increased risk of cybercrime. The older the technology, the easier it is for hackers to exploit it. What’s more, if you don’t update your security software regularly, it won’t be equipped to address the latest security threats.
Priestley explains “outdated technology and software means easy exploitation from inside and outside the organisation. If you’re not using the latest versions of operating systems, or software that you’ve invested in, then there’s greater chance for someone to exploit known weaknesses in that system and expose or steal data or valuable company information from them.”
What is the solution?
Regularly assess what condition your hardware and software are in and where delays are occurring. If you find yourself waiting on the same problem day in day out, it’s probably time to do something about it. But how often should you be upgrading your IT equipment?
In general, a computer being used for business could do with being upgraded every two to three years for optimal performance. Alternatively, sometimes simply upgrading the memory or hard drive can help applications run more quickly. Any other equipment such as printers, keyboards, etc. only really need to be replaced when they break.
As for software, upgrade it regularly. While it can be a temptation to stick with older versions that you’ve grown accustomed to, the newer versions will offer improved capabilities, efficiency and security.
While computers slowing down over time seems inevitable and something that we’ve accepted will happen, it’s important for businesses to recognise the problem can have a bigger knock-on effect than you may think. By investing in updated, efficient technology, the savings experienced via productivity are likely to vastly outweigh the price of the tech itself. So, next time your computer freezes, perhaps consider whether it’s time for an upgrade.
OFFSHORE COMPANY FORMATION TACTICS FOR SMEs
James Turner, Director at company formation specialists, Turner Little
Starting a business brings with it its own set of challenges, as well as opportunities. But when setting up a business, the where is often as important as the how, and knowing what to expect in terms of company formation regulations and requirements is key, so you can start your entrepreneurial journey on the right foot.
James Turner, Director at company formation specialists, Turner Little, takes us through what we need to consider when it comes to offshore company formation, and the benefits it can offer start-ups and SMEs.
“Despite what the media will have you believe, there are numerous legitimate reasons to use an offshore company. Offshore companies can often provide SMEs with access to better infrastructure and legal frameworks. Regulations in different parts of the world could prove to be restrictive for businesses by preventing foreign entities from launching factories, buying property or investing in local companies. In this instance, setting up an offshore company can help in completing transactions and provide you with the ability to hold any local assets necessary,” says James.
“However, one of the fundamental reasons for setting up an offshore company is often privacy. Moving assets or setting up a business is often done in a country that offers more tightly protected data security, has a robust legal framework and a network of service providers that streamline the setting up process. Switzerland is often the country of choice when it comes to privacy, as it’s synonymous with security and data privacy. Another reason SMEs should consider setting up an offshore company is tax efficiency. Tax advantages are offered by different jurisdictions. For example, Singapore has one of the lowest corporate tax rates, while the Cayman Islands might be more ideal for freelancers who are looking to minimise the effective tax rate on their businesses,” adds James.
“Offshore companies provide SMEs with the ability to mitigate risks that arise from political instability or currency volatility. We have already seen businesses starting to register European entities in order to limit their exposure to the fallout that may result from Brexit. Whatever the reason, spreading your operations across jurisdictions may be the best long-term business strategy SMEs can adopt to secure future growth,” adds James.
Turner Little specialises in creating bespoke solutions for individuals and businesses of all sizes. The knowledge and expertise of their specialists will be able to assist with any enquires, no matter how complex.
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