2 October 2023 — Stories

Attractiveness of the profession: in the battle for talent, prioritise social impact

Eleni Kanelli

Attractiveness of the profession: in the battle for talent, prioritise social impact
By Eleni Kanelli, Accountancy Europe Director

Qualifying in the accountancy profession … It seems that younger generations are losing interest in this career path. What has triggered this change and how does our profession need to evolve to remain attractive to young graduates? The first blogpost of our attractiveness series kicks off the discussion on this existential issue for the accountancy profession. In the following posts, we will look into the work-life balance in audit firms, the challenge of getting qualified and the profession’s contribution to sustainability.

Many industries have been struggling to attract talent; and the accountancy and audit sector have not been spared.

Exhaustion, long working hours, mundane activities, lack of creativity, or even burnout and depression are some of the common symptoms that young professionals seem to encounter in ‘popular’ professions such those linked to finance. The so-called ‘well-established’ professions-including accountants and auditors- are not as attractive as they used to be.

What is it that has made the accountancy profession less attractive in young generation’s eyes?

Putting people above profit

Accountancy Europe recently explored this issue with its members. According to a research project by the University of Ghent students, young people appear to perceive the profession as rather stressful with little variety in tasks, too formal and administrative including a challenging work-life balance. The research indicates a high degree of familiarity with the profession amongst students. At the same time, students’ awareness about the variety of the profession activities’ including in sustainability is low. Overall, and although the survey results are expected to open up opportunities for improvement, students seem to perceive the profession as a rather unattractive career choice [1].

It seems that the attractiveness of the profession has a wider societal root cause. When we talk about economic prosperity we often think of profit, shareholders, managers, investments etc. What we tend to forget is putting people first. Putting people above profit and growth has become a top concern amongst the latest debates in the news. While remuneration remains -as expected- a vital concern, it is now coupled with expectations for quality of life.

The corporate narrative that rewards will come with career advancements and mostly through financial benefits doesn’t seem to be convincing anymore. This is because career advancements seem to not materialise for a large part of young professionals or come at the expense of poor work-life balance. Another important factor is that youngsters appear to look for personally fulfilling aspects of professional life such as their own contribution to society and the environment.

Focusing on social impact

Corporate culture needs to evolve from prioritising profit to focusing on its social impact and employees. The profession needs to take a fresh start and listen to young people. What is the profession’s social impact on youngsters? Do they feel involved, intrigued by the nature of tasks, do they see value in their actions? These are only a few of the questions that we need to raise internally to understand why staff turnover is gaining ground.

Accountancy Europe has decided to look into the topic of attractiveness deeper and open up difficult conversations. This article is only scratching the surface of an existential issue for the profession. We will continue engaging with professionals of all ages and trigger the much needed changes.

1. Research project, University of Ghent, May 2023, Lecturer and supervisor: Bart Vandesompele.