Jim Pettigrew: When FDs speak, the wise should listen

By Jim Pettigrew CA, ICAS President

4 September 2015

Skills shortages are a concern for FDs and accountancy firms, causing some to rethink their recruitment policies. ICAS President Jim Pettigrew CA considers what it means for the profession.

Finance directors are in a unique position to provide insight into the health of their businesses and the wealth of the wider economy. They can see the whole company from a unique position. They're also best placed to know what things look like from outside the hothouse of the boardroom – not least through the unrelenting critical eye of the investor.

Our ICAS community of FDs have combined their wisdom and given voice to what concerns them in this year's Finance Directors' Survey.

For this group, the biggest issue is not the Greek crisis, or the prospect of interest rate rises, or the slowdown in China, but the growing skills shortage that businesses are experiencing.

The challenge we face in the profession is ensuring that we draw talent from all sections of our society. We need to be able to attract the best.

This is one of the greatest emerging issues on our risk registers. It highlights a growing disconnect between industry and education. It is a red flag for business leaders, government and educationalists that a new way is needed to ensure that the requirements of rapidly changing industry sectors are met with the right quality and quantity of talent.

These findings are backed up by another survey which showed that 38 per cent of global companies had trouble filling jobs due to lack of available talent. It's not just a problem with new technology skills. There is a shortage of plumbers, engineers and builders as well as software coders.

Thinking differently about recruitment is a big issue in our own profession. PwC and EY have announced that they will apply a less rigid approach to academic qualifications, so A level grades (or the equivalent) will be less of a barrier to candidates who show aptitude in other respects. EY has also stated that a 2:1 degree or better will no longer be an absolute requirement.

The other Big Four firms have changed their focus too and introduced school-leaver routes, prompting old timers to recount tales of their halcyon days as articled clerks and apprentices.

'An innovative and flexible approach'

At ICAS, we have had to be innovative and flexible in our approach, and we have brought in our own school-leaver and professional-entry routes to the CA qualification.

At the heart of the problem lies a contradiction in our education system. As universities have become more achievable for hundreds of thousands of people, they have become too expensive for many. In the 1970s only 15 per cent of school leavers went to university. Now that number is close to 50 per cent. But what outcome has that achieved?

The challenge we face in the profession is ensuring that we draw talent from all sections of our society. We need to be able to attract the best.

I was fortunate enough to get my first senior financial role as FD of a division of Sedgwick Group, the FTSE 100 insurance company, when I was only 29.

I was delighted to learn from the survey that decades on our Finance Directors still believe that the priorities for their teams are two matters closest to my heart – controlling costs and growing revenues.

There are nearly 800 CAs who hold FD or CFO positions in companies big and small in the UK and around the world.

CAs young and old should take heed of what they say. When finance directors speak, the wise should listen.

The New ICAS Conference

Learn the secrets of the FD and hear from some of the biggest names in business at the new ICAS Conference on 27 November 2015, with speakers including Nick Hewer, Nev Wilshire, Sir Brian Souter CA and Kirsty Dingwall CA.


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