This article was updated on June 18, 2018.
CFOs are fighting a tough battle against the finance skills gap. There simply aren't enough talented employees to fill every position — and that problem is only going to get worse as baby boomers retire and the strong economy continues to create a tighter labor market. To make sure your organization is not caught off guard by a costly skills gap, you should work with your HR department to figure out how to attract and develop talent.
Common Finance Skills Gap
Finding employees with accounting and financial backgrounds is already a challenge. Accounting and finance staff consistently rank in the top 10 for the hardest positions to fill, according to the ManpowerGroup's Talent Shortage Survey; however, the problem goes even deeper than just a lack of financial skills.
Financial positions have also evolved to include a lot more than just hard, technical knowledge. Ideal financial employees should also be able to handle soft business skills such as strategic planning, business decision support and the ability to present results to a non-financial audience. Unfortunately, many people with a financial or accounting background lack these soft skills because they are not taught in formal training.
Senior positions are even more difficult to hire for because all the issues listed above get compounded exponentially at this level. Fewer and fewer people have the necessary skills and experience, so organizations are all fighting over the same small pool of senior employees.
Improving Your Hiring Process
Whenever you post a new position, include as many specifics as possible about the role, including necessary soft skills. If your accountant will have to do more than just crunch the numbers, make sure applicants know that. By making the responsibilities clear, you can avoid wasting resources by hiring the wrong person.
You should also look for applicants who have gone beyond their regular duties to improve their leadership and business skills. That could be anything from volunteering, mentoring younger employees, taking continuing education classes or joining outside professional organizations. Those are all signs of a more rounded employee who can take on more responsibilities in case you get shorthanded or need them to step up.
On your end, you should review your department's compensation and benefits to make sure they are competitive with the market. In particular, look to enhance work-life balance. This is particularly important with millennials and Gen X, the future of your department and organization. Adding perks like the ability to work some days from home or extra maternity leave should make your organization more appealing.
Developing New Leaders
In the long run, you should prepare for the finance skills gap by training and promoting your own leaders. A lack of career advancement opportunities is one of the top reasons for employee turnover. You can't complain that your employees don't have the right skills if you don't make an effort to train them. By holding leadership development and mentorship programs, you can produce the next batch of financial leaders from within your organization so you don't have to fight for the few remaining on the market.
Working With HR
You and your HR department need to work together to solve the finance skills gap. Unfortunately, in many organizations, the finance and HR departments are siloed and often have no idea what the other does. That makes it very difficult for HR to recruit the people you really need.
It should be, therefore, a priority to team-up with HR and frequently communicate with them to ensure they understand the specific details you're looking for in each position you are trying to fill. You should also try to teach HR more about the particular needs of your department. In turn, you should ask HR to enlighten you about their pain points in the recruitment process. HR will get a better feel of what kind of employees your department needs and you can get a much better perspective about the recruitment process and strategize ways to make it more effective.
Closing the finance skills gap will not be easy. But by taking action now and working with HR to develop a cohesive game plan, you will be well prepared for whatever the labor market throws your way.