One thing that many companies had to grapple with under lock-down was how they were going to financially get through, what did their new budgets and forecasts look like and how did they apply (and did they meet the requirements?) Much of this work was given to accounting firms, who on the whole have taken the lock-down situation and run with it. Harry Dev Singh explains further:
1. How has Covid-19 and our lock-down affected the job market in your specialty?
Lock-down for accounting firms occurred at the busiest time of the year - being year end. So much of the work was already underway and firms were busy. There was also additional work bought about by the lock-down, in particular around the wage subsidy, and also lots of re-forecasting and advice for companies who’ve been severely impacted (positively and negatively) due to lock-down.
In terms of the job market, because some firms have been hugely busy, and it is harder to hire in a lock-down environment, they hit pause on recruitment activity. Others, particularly in specialist/corporate finance firms that offer business restructuring & insolvency services, have been recruiting as they foresee and upturn in their area of business in the next few years.
2. What are employers doing or planning to do in response?
Most Partners and Principals of firms have still continued on their respective service lines. Most firms were and are still very busy in providing support to their end clients (wage subsidy queries, small loan applications etc), on top of their quarterly and year-end and other compliance commitments. While lock-down has been hard, many businesses are reflecting on the fact that having a quality accountant and accounting firm has helped them navigate through.
3. Have you seen more candidates than normal?
Yes, during the lock-down and level 3 when candidates were working from home, I spent a lot of time with good candidates who were thinking about the future. The benefit of being in lock-down is that many people had time to reflect and wanted to discuss career progression. During this period we had a strong pipeline in registering talent (that were unknown to our vast database), which we interviewed virtually via video messaging tools.
4. Have you seen more Kiwis returning from overseas (or inquiring about returning?)
Absolutely, I have spoken with a significantly huge number in comparison to past years. Most Kiwis are either putting their OE plans on hold, or had to cancel their trips midway and return home to NZ before border closure and enforced quarantine.
For those Kiwis who are mid-way in their 2 year milestone in the UK, there is a lot of interest from these parties in cutting their trips and coming home to new jobs. The success of the NZ Government in battling Covid-19 has generated very positive publicity abroad, and this has been very appealing for Kiwis looking to return home to the relative safety and stability in NZ compared to the other markets.
5. What is happening with contract vs permanent roles?
In the public practice space, there's been a big uptake for contract recruitment, e.g. experienced BAS professionals to do compliance on an hourly or fixed term basis. Contract options have traditionally been frowned upon by Partners/Principals of firms, but Covid-19 has challenged this perception, which is a great outcome and will certainly help firms with workforce mobility as they operate through the post Covid-19 environment.
Now existing in level 1 (yay!), the appetite for BAU and permanent recruitment is returning, especially for some of the boutique firms across New Zealand.
6. What opportunities are you seeing for employers right now?
There is strong talent who’ve shelved their plans to do their OE’s and are interested in the NZ marketplace - this is a never before seen opportunity for many employers! There is also a wide talent pool of returning Kiwis, who bring with them strong experience in industry and exposure to top tier accounting firms. Many of these would typically look at commercial roles, however, many are interested in accounting firms.
7. What opportunities are you seeing for job seekers right now?
The market is shifting currently, but there are still plenty of opportunities if you have the right representation and coverage. Employers are looking for specific profiles, so it is important to partner with a specialist recruiter who covers the public practice market as core specialism (not as something they dabble in!)
8. What advice do you have if you are a job seeker?
Despite the news of doom and gloom, there are still opportunities in the public practice - most opportunities are not advertised publicly and would be through a specialist recruiter. If you have been impacted by redundancy, consider taking a contract or fixed term role if offered - sometimes the foot in the door results in opportunities beyond that which you were hoping for!
9. Which skills continue to be highly sought after by employers, despite current conditions?
Having some value-add skills that separates you from other talent , e.g. financial modelling, cash-flow and budgeting (cash-flow being a key topic in these challenging times), Power BI and other reporting tools. Most firms are looking to boost up their consulting and advisory services beyond the conventional compliance/year-end offerings.
10. Where do you see the market heading and how can job seekers and employers make the most of it?
There is considerable market shift currently - both from an employer and employee perspective. New service lines are being introduced and expanded (e.g. restructuring & recoveries), and how we work is being tested. Flexible work from home-hybrid arrangements are the new norm. Both employers and job seekers need to be agile and be aware of where the market is shifting to. Now is not the time to expect the status quo!
11. Despite it all, what have you learnt or developed through lock-down and how will it help you moving forward?
Personally for me, it has been a very rewarding experience in reconnecting with past contacts, and moving forward it has taught me the power of a positive mindset. The conversations that I've had over the lock-down and level 3 periods have inspired me and I'm certain the market will rebound in a very short span of time.
It has been wonderful sharing these insights with my candidates and clients, and being the voice of reason and support has been a fulfilling experience for me both personally and professionally. While we would never have wished this on anyone, there has been a lot of growth and development during this time, which has been exceptional.
If you are in the Professional Services Accounting Firms space, are hiring or looking to find out what opportunities are out there in the market; or if you would just like to connect with Harry to get more regular market updates, please get in touch with him!