Home-grown workforce key to meeting Welsh industry skills challenge


Wales is an emerging force in financial services; increasingly host to the leading businesses and services underpin the UK’s world-leading financial sector.

Close communication with the City afforded by great transport links and future opportunities provided by the rail electrification programme (which will bring the Cardiff-London journey time down to just 1hr 45m and increase the number of trains running back and forth), means that the Welsh capital region has become a natural hub for investors looking for a more affordable location than London. This will develop Wales’ reputation as the home for innovative fintech start-ups as well as for established, household names like Admiral, Principality, Deloitte, Lloyds Banking Group to name just a few.

The Welsh finance sector contributed over £2billion to the UK economy in 2016. According to the Welsh Government, Cardiff’s financial and professional services sector employed 46,700 as of 2014, almost a quarter of the city’s total employment — up 4,000 from 2011. The region is doing so well that in 2015, the UK Government designated South Wales a ‘financial centre of excellence’ — one of only eight outside London. This is further evidence that the industry in Wales is experiencing substantial growth. 

Here at Acorn, our team has more than 35 years’ combined experience of recruiting accountancy and finance professionals, at all levels. For us, the growth of the financial sector is fantastic to see – and yet, the prospect of skills shortages in this area is an increasingly urgent issue.

In recent years, skills shortages in accounting and finance have been widely reported, with a clear demand for suitably-qualified professionals not just in Wales but in the UK as a whole. Audit and risk is a particular area rising in demand due to businesses seeking to mitigate the risk of cyber-attacks. The latest Employer Skills Survey, carried out by the Department for Education (DFE) in 2015, highlighted a trend towards recruitment from abroad in finance professions. Other reasons include a continuing negative perception of the industry following the financial crisis and a knock-on economic effect regarding cuts on graduate programmes.

Despite this, there remains a strong and steady increasing employer demand for accountancy skills within the financial sector. We’re looking at a candidate-driven market – highly-skilled applicants who have their pick of roles across the board and who are more likely to quickly receive alternative offers with the ability to pick and choose their next step. No longer can employers expect the best candidates to be available with no other prospects while they take time to decide who to offer positions to.

Our extensive experience means that we are usually asked to work as a retained recruitment partner, often involving specific headhunting activity.

We get to know our candidates throughout their career journey so that when looking for their next role, they’re comfortable coming to us and know that we understand what it is they’re looking for. Due to the quality of these candidates, we also work closely with our designated Executive Search Division, placing high-calibre candidates into senior or board-level roles.

How can we encourage a broader range of prospective accountancy candidates to consider the finance industry as a career?

TheCityUK estimates that around 25,000 students in Wales are currently enrolled in courses connected to the industry. By working closely with our clients, and with local universities and professional bodies like ACCA and ICAEW, our aim is to encourage more graduates to enter the finance sector, not just from subject-specific accountancy and finance courses but more general courses too – there are so many transferable skills that individuals can use to develop a fantastic career in this area.

Developing the right employment package to attract talent is key. Many employers we work with will now offer training alongside a day-to-day role, leading to AAT qualification or Chartered Status. This is undoubtedly a much-needed requirement to develop the skills needed to carry the Welsh financial sector through this period of growth and ensure that it remains strong – particularly as we head ever-closer towards the unknown after Brexit.

Jan Hughes
Director, Executive Search
Jan has been recruiting senior professionals into the workplace for more than 20 years. Having previously run her own accountancy recruitment business with a turnover of more than £2 million, Jan joined Acorn in 2016 to establish our Executive Search division, and now works on a search and selection basis to find the best candidates for the best roles.
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Home-grown workforce key to meeting Welsh industry skills challenge
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