Singapore is facing a skills shortage in finance and accounting as demand for high-calibre talent intensifies amid the strong economy. Proactive steps have been taken by employers to address the talent crunch, but with the balance of power in the labour market shifting towards employees, organisations need to do even more to attract and retain the best people.
These findings are based on data collected from the “Singapore Talent and Skills in Finance & Accounting Survey 2010: Uncovering the Challenges”, a joint research by recruitment specialist Robert Half and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). The survey was conducted in August 2010 and interviewed 1,600 professionals in finance and accounting across Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Singapore. Of the 428 polled in Singapore, 325 were involved in the recruitment of personnel.
Skills shortage in finance and accounting in Singapore
A significant 81% of Singapore respondents with recruitment responsibilities believed there was an existing skills shortage in finance and accounting in the country. Almost half of them claimed that the situation was either major (29%) or chronic (11%), indicating the severity of the shortage. The problem is more acute in Singapore and Hong Kong with more respondents reporting the shortage to be “chronic” than in Australia and New Zealand.
The survey also found the skills shortage in Singapore to be most prevalent in the middle management level (63%). However, a sizeable 42% of Singapore respondents said the shortage was most noticeable in the senior management/ director level, the highest among the countries polled. Of the competencies perceived to be lacking in finance and accounting professionals in Singapore, management and leadership (65%) skills topped the list, followed by interpersonal skills and or the ability to work within a team structure (63%), communication skills (60%), as well as hands-on experience (45%).
According to Singapore respondents, the key reasons for the talent crunch were the lack of development opportunities offered by organisations (60%) and insufficient measures by employers to retain talents (52%). Also exacerbating the problem were the departure of skilled people for other industries (41%) and the accounting sector being unattractive to young graduates (33%).
Commented Mr Tim Hird, Managing Director of Robert Half Singapore, “As the job market continues to tighten, employers in Singapore are facing a serious challenge in locating skilled people to certain jobs, particularly those in key middle to back-end finance and accounting functions. Adding to the problem is the increasing number of professionals leaving the accounting sector for opportunities in other industries. The brain drain is resulting from both pull and push factors, and companies need to seriously re-think their talent management strategies in order to attract and retain good people.”
Skills upgrading to address the shortage
Amid the competitive market, employers in Singapore are making the effort to address the shortage, with the majority of them focusing on upgrading the skills of their existing staff (58%). Correspondingly, most of the respondents (74%) also claimed to have received skills training over the last 12 months. Nevertheless, finance and accounting professionals appear to want even more – a significant 86% of Singapore respondents said they wanted their employers to offer more formal training and development, citing leadership skills (68%), technical or accountancy qualifications (58%) and presentation skills (48%) as their top courses of choice.
Mr Darryl Wee, Country Head of ACCA Singapore, said, “It is heartening to note the efforts by companies to up-skill their employees over the past year, answering the call by the Singapore Government to boost productivity growth of the country by raising the skills level of the workforce. However, the investment by employers in upgrading and training their staff should not be a one-off or a short term measure. Instead, skills upgrading should be a critical component of an organisation’s long term strategy, both in terms of attracting and retaining talent, as well as in the achievement of sustained business growth.”
Other measures to plug the talent crunch
Another key measure by organisations to cope with the skills shortage in finance and accounting is the engagement of temporary or contract professionals. More businesses in Singapore are viewing temporary or contracting staffing as a strategic solution to their recruitment needs, with 47% reporting the use of such talent, the highest in the region.
More employers in Singapore are also recruiting foreign professionals (32%) compared to the other countries polled. A sizeable 44% of Singapore respondents claimed that recruitment procedures made it easy to employ finance and accounting talent from overseas, facilitated by flexible immigration policies and other government regulations. However, 39% said it was difficult, noting stringent headquarter procedures and internal corporate quota on local and foreign staff.
High mobility among finance and accounting professionals
As the talent shortage persists, finance and accounting professionals have also become increasingly mobile within the employment market. Over the past year, 41% of Singapore respondents had actively looked for another job locally, while 31% considered employment opportunities overseas. A significant 47% of Singapore respondents had also been approached by recruitment agencies or competitor firms about job offers – the highest among the countries polled – underscoring the strong demand for skilled finance and accounting talent.
The robust job market has also undoubtedly created challenges for employers in the retention of their key talent. Respondents from Singapore said they would be less likely to look for opportunities elsewhere if their employers could offer them a better salary package (64%), a promotion or better career development opportunities (58%), as well as more flexible work arrangements (41%), among other enticements. Just as important to them are inspiring leaders within their current organisations, a well structured management system, as well as effective working relationships with their bosses.
Commented Mr Hird, “Satisfying a competitive and talented workforce has become more complex and demanding in the current market. Attractive salary packages will continue to feature high on the list of demands by employees, and as such, the alignment of pay levels to the current market should be a priority in talent retention. But companies need to up the ante by offering more than just attractive pay. A well-rounded talent package that promotes career progression and a healthy work life balance will offer an organisation the competitive edge.”
Mr Wee concluded, “Alternative work arrangements, such as flexible work hours, should be integrated into talent management programmes as far as possible to cater to employees’ evolving career and personal needs. Such arrangement are however not easy to implement, and as with any human-resource initiative, success requires time and experimentation. It is important that employers communicate with their employees and respond accordingly, adjusting and adapting along the way. Once a successful programme is in place, it should be continually moulded and adapted to meet the demands of the business and its employees.”
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