A change is good after a rest

The holidays are over and newly-qualified accountants are on the move, says Roger Trapp

The new year is traditionally regarded as the time for changing jobs. Not so, says a leading firm of financial recruitment consultants.

Rather than making new year's resolutions in the wake of the Christmas festivities, accountants are inclined to decide to change things after reappraising their lives while on their summer holidays, according to Robert Half International. "When people go away they have time to stand back from their everyday lives and question what they're doing. Many return with a desire to bring some change to their lives, and a very fundamental part of this is their jobs," says Jeff Grout, managing director of Robert Half.

The result - confirmed by the firm's annual figures - is a rise in the number of people leaving their jobs in September, October and, increasingly, November.

But it is not just experienced personnel who are on the move. This is also the time when junior accountants test the worth of their newly-acquired qualifications in the marketplace - and, with the economy improving, often receive offers they are reluctant to refuse.

Opportunities in the City are especially good at the moment. Though there is a variety of openings in the area, Charles Logan, director of Hays Accountancy Personnel, identifies a "particular demand for traditional banking and audit roles".

He adds: "It is interesting to note that an imperfect exam record or training in a smaller firm is no longer a bar to success in the financial sector - which it was until about a year ago. The shortage of newly-qualified accountants means that there is now far greater flexibility in terms of the experience expected by employers in the sector."

This shortage of newly qualifieds - caused by firms responding to the recession by reducing sharply the intake of recruits a few years ago - is also being felt in public practice. Firms fighting to retain their best staff in the face of City blandishments are having to make their salaries and other benefits increasingly competitive, says Mr Logan. Among the inducements being offered are bonuses in larger firms and fast-track partnership schemes in smaller practices.

In commerce and industry, however, the picture looks a little different. Larger companies tend to have maintained higher entry standards - requiring practical experience alongside good academic qualifications - and are prepared to pay above-average salaries to attract such people. In smaller companies, opportunities are increasing because of the growing sophistication of business and the need to fill basic accounting and financial control positions - though successful candidates have to demonstrate management skills in addition to technical ability.

As might be expected, salaries in this area tend to lag behind those in others, though there is some compensation in that accountants are being given increasing opportunities to move into business roles.

According to Hays Accountancy, the financial package for newly-qualifieds in small companies is in the region of pounds 25,000 to pounds 30,000. This compares with pounds 32,000 to pounds 35,000 with pension and health care in the larger companies, pounds 25,000 to pounds 30,000 with profit-related pay, private health care and pension in public practice, and pounds 30,000 to pounds 37,000 with bonuses of up to 15 per cent of salary, overtime, car, health care, pension and housing allowance in financial services.

But, if Robert Half's Jeff Grout is to be believed, it is not just the money that attracts or keeps staff. The basic remedy for staff loss has more to do with making employees feel valued than with money or perks, he says. People should feel they are treated as individuals and involved in decisions, he adds. "People complain about a boss who treats them badly or who they don't identify with the company."

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