The Generation Game

Each new generation comes along with a new label; baby boomers ‘had it easy’, generation X are ‘lost’, generation Y ‘lack loyalty’ – the generalisations of each generation are well known and, rightly or wrongly, stick in the public conscious. Additionally, those of us who have been in the workforce ten or more years can be guilty of regarding new entrants with scepticism, ‘they won’t stay’, ‘they want promotion too soon’, or ‘they are too needy’.

There are many studies on the youngest generation in the workforce (that is the ‘millennials’ or ‘generation next’) but in April 2016 ACCA set out to give an unbiased ear to the career hopes and dreams of young professional accountants – ACCA members and students up to the age of 36. Our survey was answered by over 18,600 participants from 150 countries (including 105 responses from Malta) a significant global response.

The report, Professional accountants – the future: Generation Next, pulls out eight key findings that give us valuable insights into this young generation of accountants.

  1. Finance experience is a valued platform for their future career.

    85% of participants agreed that a background in finance would be valuable for organisation leaders in the future. Additionally 43% respondents said that it was the long term career prospects that attracted them to the profession. Accountancy is clearly valued, good news then as we can expect to see young people continuing to enter the profession. This recognition of where a professional accountant role can head i.e. a leadership career is echoed in the second finding.

  2. Generation next are very mobile.

    70% of respondents want their next move to be a promotion and 61% will look externally for their next role. That’s a massive challenge for employers, particularly as those moves are sought urgently – when we asked, ‘how quickly would you like to move?’ 70% indicated within two years. How do you retain talent and organisational knowledge when there is a thirst from young professionals to move up and out?

  3. Progression is key for attraction and retention.

    Guaranteed career progression for any individual doesn’t exist within any organisation, so how to temper the demand for promotion? When we dig into the report findings, ‘opportunities to learn new skills’ came out ahead of ‘opportunities for progression’. And it’s the transparency around progression that frustrates respondents – 37% disagreeing with the statement, ‘career paths are transparent in my organisation’. Therefore employers should give thought to their staff development programmes and provide career progression transparency from the outset.

  4. International roles are part of their career strategy.

    A massive 80% of respondents desire a role in a different country or region. Bringing a more diverse view to the workplace is increasingly relevant and one way of building these capabilities is working in globally based teams or seeking international secondments. By tapping into Generation Next’ ambitions for growth and international work experience, employers can also benefit from greater global talent pools in their recruitment processes.

  5. A finance career is not necessarily the end game.

    Another large response – 81% – of participants said they would like to start their own business at some point in the future. And 60% are happy to consider a role outside finance / the accountancy profession into business. This may cause more headaches for employers, but there is hope as the next finding shows.

  6. Current roles provide some satisfaction.

    48% of respondents defined themselves as satisfied or very satisfied in their role. They have strong relationships with both their line manager (67%) and team colleagues (79%) and, even though there are variations across key sectors, they generally have a good work life balance in their current jobs.

  7. Experiential learning is most valuable.

    Our survey respondents find on the job learning (52%) and other personalised training interventions such as coaching and mentoring as the most effective method of learning. This echoes back to the findings around career progression – learning skills are highly valued, more so than progression, and clearly a personal approach resonates well with this generation. This is perhaps surprising given the last key finding around technology.

  8. Technology is seen as an opportunity.

    With increasing attention on the application of ‘robotic’ software across the profession, as well as other emerging technologies, our respondents expect some displacement of more junior level roles across the profession (57%), but also recognise that technology will enable finance professionals to focus on much higher value added activity (84%) indicating they are comfortable with the technological revolution.

The report shows the Generation Next of professional accounts are ambitious, ready to travel, love to learn and embrace new technology. No different then, from young professionals in other sectors. But perhaps it’s the confidence they are gaining key business skills through accountancy to support their ambitions that sets them apart from their peers in different sectors. Of course there are challenges for employers, particularly smaller organisations unable to offer retention incentives such as global secondments or fast track promotion. But business is evolving, the days of a job for life have gone, zero hours contracts and short fixed term contracts are common place. Can we blame a generation for being agile? Is it simply a Darwinian response to an uncertain career landscape? Whatever this, and the generation after bring, one thing is for certain the world will always need highly skilled professional accountants and it is the role of educators and professional organisations to support all generations to build and maintain those skills.

Read the full report

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