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Survey: Talent Shortages Persist in Some Countries, Specialties

For many employers, skilled accountants remain hard to find. A new report suggests this may be especially true outside of the United States, where hiring managers say it remains quite challenging to find good candidates.

September 21, 2009
Sponsored by Robert Half Finance & Accounting

For many employers, skilled accountants remain hard to find. A new report suggests this may be especially true outside of the United States (U.S.), where hiring managers say it remains quite challenging to find good candidates for accounting and finance positions.

According to the third annual Robert Half Global Financial Employment Monitor, more than half (56%) of all survey respondents reported difficulty finding candidates with the requisite skills. This figure is the same as in the previous two years, suggesting that companies are not having a significantly easier time recruiting top performers despite high levels of unemployment in many parts of the world. The global survey — developed by Robert Half International — is based on a poll of more than 4,800 hiring managers in finance and human resources across 21 countries. In addition to focusing on staffing-related issues, this year’s report also examined the effects of the global economic downturn on financial teams around the world.

Hiring challenges appear to be especially prevalent outside North America. For instance, large majorities of managers in Hong Kong (86%), Japan (73%) and Singapore (72%) cited difficulty filling accounting and finance positions. By contrast, 32 percent of managers in the U.S. and 43 percent in Canada cited talent shortages, although this may be partly attributable to a drop-off in recruiting activity as managers concentrate more on operating under budgetary constraints than on adding staff. On a global basis, the survey found that financial management positions were the hardest to hire for, followed by accounting, controller and financial and business analysis roles.

Outside of Asia, managers in Brazil also reported a tough recruiting environment, with 79 percent of those polled saying they are having a hard time locating skilled talent. In addition, 20 percent of respondents in Austria reported trouble finding tax and treasury personnel, which was the highest percentage recorded for any single job category. On the other hand, 62 percent of respondents from the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) said they were not having difficulty finding candidates with the necessary financial skills.

Hiring Needs and Retention Concerns

Asked to identify the most important attributes when making an executive-level hire, respondents worldwide said the top consideration is “experience and knowledge of the industry/sector.” Nearly three-quarters (74%) of U.S. hiring managers cited this response, compared to 63 percent of global respondents. Regulatory-compliance expertise was the second leading response among managers worldwide, at 42 percent, followed by a legal background (27%).

Perhaps as a result of ongoing recruiting challenges reported by managers, retention concerns remain high. More than half (53 percent) of all respondents said they were either concerned or very concerned about keeping top financial performers over the next year, down slightly from 58 percent last year. Managers in Hong Kong expressed the strongest sentiment in this area, with 89 percent saying retention was a primary concern. Of European managers surveyed, 87 percent of respondents in Spain and 66 percent in France said they worry about keeping their best people. By contrast, the number of U.S. managers who cited retention concerns fell sharply from 73 percent in 2008 to 40 percent in 2009.

Economy’s Impact on Workers

Like other business areas, accounting and finance departments around the world have felt the impact of the global downturn. In the report, 32 percent of U.S. respondents, compared to 40 percent globally, stated that their finance and accounting teams had been affected by the economic environment. Among that group, 49 percent of U.S. respondents have a hiring freeze in place, 47 percent have consolidated roles and 38 percent have experienced layoffs.

Asked how current economic conditions have affected their individual employees, nearly half (48%) of U.S. respondents cited increased stress, compared to 39 percent globally. The next most commonly cited effects, both globally and in the U.S., were heavier workloads and decreased morale. Less than one-third of all respondents both in the U.S. (32%) and around the world (29%) said their accounting and finance teams have remained unaffected. Managers in Luxembourg and the U.A.E. reported the least impact from the global recession, with more than two-thirds (69%) of respondents in each country characterizing the situation in their accounting and finance groups as unchanged.

The majority of managers surveyed (62% in the United States and 70% globally) said they have taken some form of action to better support their teams. The most common measures employers worldwide are taking include redistributing workloads (39%), increasing communication with staff (31%) and postponing projects (30%).

Predictions of an Upturn

On the subject of economic recovery, respondents indicated that they believe an upturn is in sight. Asked when they expected their national economies to rebound, 60 percent of all respondents predicted improvement by mid-2010. Managers in the U.S. and United Kingdom (U.K.) were more guarded in their projections. In both countries, managers expect improvement to occur at a slower pace than the global average. Just over half (53% in the U.K. and 56% in the U.S.) expect a rebound by mid-2010, and approximately one-quarter (24% and 23%, respectively) don’t expect improvement until 2011 or later.

When conditions do brighten, those companies that have already begun taking steps to capitalize on improving business conditions, including enhancing their ability to recruit and retain top performers, should have the most to gain.

To download the Global Financial Employment Monitor, please visit www.rhi.com/GFEM.

To listen to Management Minute podcast about the Global Financial Employment Monitor, please visit www.rhi.com/Podcast.

Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International, is one of the world’s first and largest specialized financial recruitment service. The company has more than 360 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.roberthalf.com.