‘War for talent’ on the rise in accounting profession

The growing clamor for transparency and disclosure, combined with increasing volumes of business data, has boosted demand for quality financial reporting. This, in turn, has led to a fierce battle over finance and accounting talent here and abroad.


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Of the 9,830 accounting graduates who took the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensure examination last May 2018, the Professional Regulation Commission said less than one-third or 2,843 takers passed. Not all passers, however, automatically join the auditing industry.

On the contrary, accounting firms are left fighting over a sliver, said Rhia Girmendonk Dee, human resources director at P&A Grant Thornton.

She said CPAs who seek work abroad or join huge multinational companies and home-grown corporates account for a big chunk of the talent pie, she added. Some use their accounting degree as a jumping board to study in another field, such as law, or start their own business. And then there’s the stiff competition from the IT and business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. Shared services centers in the Philippines offer accounting jobs to satisfy financial reporting regulations abroad and handle a wide variety of financial processes like payroll processing and bank reconciliation for overseas clients. “It’s tough being up against BPOs that offer higher pay, fewer tasks, and where everything is pretty much automated,” Ms. Dee admitted.

Ms. Dee said the talent shortage is happening across industries and on a global scale. She cited a recent study by Manpower Group, which surveyed 39,195 employers across six industry sectors in 43 countries and territories. The survey showed that the global talent shortage has now reached a 12-year high and ranked accounting and finance as the 7th among skills most in demand in the world.

This is why even the likes of P&A Grant Thornton, one of the top 5 auditing and professional services firms in the country, is upping the ante. The firm has around 900 employees and 21 partners across its nationwide network providing audit, tax, outsourcing, and high-level advisory services. “When the skill itself has become hard to find, especially when combined with specific soft skills that we need to support our firm's vision and values, so recruitment and retention have become a more challenging job,” said Ms. Dee.

The increasing focus on accounting quality and integrity also places greater importance on the values, not just talent and skills. “We need to attract people who have the same values as we have and would flourish in the kind of culture and environment,” added P&A Grant Thornton chairperson and chief executive officer Maria Victoria C. Españo.

Thus P&A Grant Thornton has been employing a ‘targeted’ strategy of recruiting, which includes building an early relationship with potential recruits even before they graduate and find jobs. The firm collaborates with student organizations, schools, accounting professors, and review centers, use job platforms such as LinkedIn, and rolls out faculty development programs to help guide teachers in certain schools nationwide. This strategy allows the firm, not only to scout for the “right fit,” but also to offer students and other stakeholders an opportunity to get to know P&A Grant Thornton, particularly its culture and values that differentiate it from other audit firms.

Once the CPA is onboard, P&A Grant Thornton offers several opportunities for career growth. It immerses its people to a culture of training and development, including a deliberate succession plan and sensing tools such as an employee net promoter score (NPS). The firm also grooms its future leaders through scholarship program that sends them to graduate degree courses and a “secondment” to Grant Thornton’s various offices abroad.

Another is offering greater personal autonomy such as Work Offbase, a “mobile workstation” program that paves the way for telecommuting. This appeals to modern professionals who prefer workspace flexibility, said Ms. Dee.

Recognizing that millennials — which comprise 80 percent of its workforce — look for a sense of purpose in their work, P&A Grant Thornton also provides a venue where employees can cultivate their passion for social through “P&A for A Cause” (PAuse), an independent unit under the P&A Foundation with employee-driven initiatives.

Ms. Dee, a seasoned HR professional who has seen many significant industry movements in the last 18 years, believes that a critical ingredient of keeping people is giving them a diverse, inclusive environment where Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and millennials learn from each other and bring what they can to the table — may it be tribal knowledge, process-orientedness, or sage digital know-how.

“We start with competencies and skills, not with age group. Don’t set the tone for segregating people – whatever package they come in, accept them if they fit the bill,” she advised.