"The increased demand for bright graduates and other trainees is perhaps one of the most significant trends," says Denis Waxman, managing director of Hays Accountancy Personnel, which conducted the survey. "For the first time since the 1980s we are seeing employers prepared to spend money and time on developing their own skilled work-force instead of relying on hiring people trained by someone else."
Pay for trainee accountants has risen by 8.2 per cent in the six months since the last Hays survey. New graduates moving into accountancy can expect salaries of pounds 15,000 in London, or of pounds 11,000 elsewhere in the country.
While graduate salaries have risen, corporations have also turned increasingly to head-hunters to poach staff from competitors, while older unemployed finance specialists have found themselves in demand again. The focus in recent years on employing young staff has led some companies to recognise that their work-forces need to be balanced by recruiting some more experienced workers.
"Employers who are not keen to pay a premium for younger staff, often without sound commercial experience, have begun to realise the value of the older worker," explains Mr Waxman. "While ageism has not disappeared from the work-place entirely, the survey shows how valuable a contribution the older worker can make."
The Hays survey found that finance directors in central London can command salaries of up to pounds 130,000 in large corporations; of pounds 50,000 to pounds 85,000 in medium-sized firms; and of pounds 40,000 to pounds 65,000 in small companies.
Karen Lewis, the regional service manager of Reed Accountancy Personnel, says that the state of the market particularly suits newly qualified accountants. "International and merchant banks as well as stockbroking firms are offering premium salaries to newly qualified accountants who are either from a big six or financial services background.
"Even with no specific sector experience, offers of pounds 30,000 to pounds 35,000 are being made, rising to pounds 45,000 in some instances for newly qualified chartered and certified accountants with sector knowledge." Ms Lewis says that there is a strong demand, too, for specialist systems accountants.
Hays says graduates who combine information technology and finance skills are likely to be seen as the most attractive to many employers. It adds that many companies in the financial services sector are offering increasingly specialist products, placing more emphasis on the need for in-house training for new staff, and reducing the potential for good staff to be poached.
The findings of Hays' study is in line with the latest quarterly survey of the finance sector conducted by the CBI and Coopers & Lybrand, published earlier this month. This found that growing profitability was leading to an increase in recruitment, particularly by security traders and fund managersn