Significant changes to the audit profession in recent years mean that the industry is facing a recruitment crisis. Whereas audit used to be considered a core skill for a career in accountancy, factors such as increased audit thresholds and greater scrutiny from regulators are making it a less attractive career path for high-quality candidates. This week Lawyer Monthly hears on this topic from James Hadfield, Head of Audit at Menzies LLP.
With demand for audit skills now exceeding supply, it is increasingly important that accountancy firms somehow differentiate their offering effectively to attract the best talent and promote audit as an attractive career to the next generation.
While historically all businesses were required to undertake a statutory audit, the threshold has increased over the years and it is now a requirement only for those with a turnover of more than £10.2 million – around 10 per cent of UK businesses. More recently, a number of high-profile audit scandals and continuing pressure on fees, are encouraging trainees to opt for alternative service lines, or enter industry, on qualification.
It is also important to consider how the growing role of technology is changing the skills sets required by those entering the audit profession. At one point, all audits were performed manually, on paper. However, over the years the development of spreadsheets, specialist accounting and audit software and most recently data analytics software are driving greater automation of audit processes. As a result of these technological changes, IT skills are becoming one of the most desired internal audit skills in the current marketplace.
Far from making the role of the auditor redundant, by allowing routine or tedious tasks to be performed automatically, advancements in technology are freeing up time for audit professionals to focus on more interesting areas and really engage with clients.
With accountancy firms increasingly emphasising the importance of client experience in order to differentiate their offering, communication and client service skills are becoming essential for those looking to pursue a career in audit. Recruiting individuals with a high degree of commercial acumen and the ability to exercise good judgement is therefore becoming increasingly important.
The high demand for quality audit candidates places a requirement on employers to identify what distinguishes their firm from the marketplace and promote this effectively as a central part of their recruitment strategy. With trainees required to take a standard set of examinations up to the point of qualification, the addition of a comprehensive, well-rounded training programme can prove a key factor in attracting the best talent.
As well as seeking out the soft skills necessary to become a valued member of a firm’s audit team, more candidates are looking for employers who are able to provide an enriching and varied career pathway. In addition to opportunities for overseas working and the chance to work with a number of different clients, organisations are using benefits such as flexible working, holidays and healthcare to position themselves as a desirable place to work.
In recent years, the audit profession has often hit the headlines for the wrong reasons and its compliance-driven nature can sometimes encourage businesses to view it as an unwelcome distraction. However, in this era of “fake news” and a crisis of public trust, the role of auditors has never been more important, protecting shareholders whilst helping businesses achieve their goals.
By playing their part in promoting the industry as a force for good and developing an attractive and distinctive trainee experience, firms can overcome the audit skills gap and introduce accountants to a rewarding and varied career path.