UK must develop professional skills or “risk being left behind”, market warns

Public policy and infrastructure must be adapted to ensure that the professional and financial services sectors can continue to access top talent to support the UK economy post-pandemic, sources have said.

“Accountants and finance professionals are already at the heart of supporting economic growth as trusted advisors to the UK’s army of small and large businesses,” says Claire Bennison, head of the Association for Chartered Certified Accountants UK (ACCA). “It’s more important than ever that the UK has a strong pipeline of professional and ethical business advisors, as we seek to boost productivity and take advantage of new opportunities.”

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Accounting for Growth launched an official call for evidence to supplement a forthcoming report on how to boost financial and professional skills in the UK. The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) is supporting the inquiry.

“The pandemic has brought about challenges for many businesses and sectors and it is vital that public policy meets these challenges and helps put the UK economy on a good footing for recovery,” said John Howell, Conservative MP for Henley and chair of the APPG.

“This inquiry will explore what skills our economy needs as we come out of recovery and how the financial and professional services sector is supporting upskilling,” added Howell.

According to a statement issued by CIMA, the call for evidence will examine a range of government schemes including apprenticeships, the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and Help to Grow in order to determine how they can be adapted to better meet the needs of the sector.

“We’re pleased that the APPG is consulting the industry on the best way forward,” says Bennison. “Government needs to gain valuable insights to promote the agenda for future skills and prosperity.”

Troubled talent landscape

Crucially, the sectors within the scope of the APPG’s inquiry are those struggling from skills shortages. In fact, a recent report published by the Professional & Business Services Council and the Financial Services Skills Commission found that an average of 32 percent of UK firms are afflicted by shortages in financial, professional and business services skills.

The report also offers insight into the impact of such talent shortages, with the sector’s annual output expected to be 12 percent higher if skills gaps were plugged – equivalent to £38bn annually.

Andrew Hilliard, managing director at accounting recruitment firm AJ Chambers, argues that this is a longstanding and systemic issue.

“This [coronavirus] has just accentuated the situation – it was a trend that was happening in society anyway. Going back 20 years, there was a lot more competition and high-end talent going into certain sectors,” he says.

“We’ve had two very prominent firms within the last month ring us up and say they’re not getting the level of candidates that they’re looking for and asked us if it would help for us to put our fees up – that’s never happened before.”

To address the skills shortages, Hilliard says more needs to be done from the ground-up in order to source and nurture talent.

“There probably needs to be a bit more done in terms of firms engaging with colleges and universities, and actually building relationships with these young people who are deciding which direction to take their careers in.”

The APPG is calling for submissions from businesses, representatives organisations, local authorities, colleges, independent training providers and charities by September 17. A selection of those will be invited to give evidence at a meeting.

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