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Accountants reject regions as recruitment crisis deepens

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 23 Mar 2023

With just two potential applicants for every accounting role, firms in Manchester and Nottingham are bearing the brunt of the talent shortage, new research has revealed.

Aspirations to level up the UK economy are being thwarted by regional talent shortages, with the number of accountancy vacancies outside of London highlighting a deepening crisis that is threatening the growth potential of the sector.

According to the Financial Professionals Index (FPI), firms in Manchester and Nottingham have the smallest talent pool from which to recruit. Compiled by accounting solutions provider Bright, the FPI is based on analysis of 20 cities in the UK and Ireland, comparing the number of online searches for accountancy-based jobs with the number of relevant roles advertised over a month.

According to the index, Manchester had the second highest number of accountancy vacancies in January in the UK and Ireland at 2,884, after London with 5,810 vacancies, but while there were more than 57,200 searches for opportunities in the capital per month, just 5,840 were looking for equivalent roles in Manchester.

Just over 1,400 accountancy roles were advertised in Nottingham – the sixth highest in the list – yet the number of searches for the city was a relatively modest 3,227 per month.

Liverpool, Leeds, Brighton and Sheffield all ranked lowest after Manchester and Nottingham, with an average of three job hunters per role – less than half the national average of seven.

And while cities at the top of the table, such as Carlisle (14 applicants), Norwich and Plymouth (13 applicants each), find themselves with more applicants per role, this is still low when compared with available positions and leaves hiring managers with only a small pool of candidates to hire from.

Kevin McCallum, CEO of Bright, says that the findings will come as little surprise to firms that have struggled to recruit top talent over the past 12 months: “These figures provide a snapshot of a deepening crisis in the industry, where many firms are unable to reach their growth potential because they don’t have enough skilled staff.

“What’s surprising though, are the stark regional variations across the UK and Ireland. It’s also disappointing that the big university cities don’t seem to have a steady stream of graduates and professionals looking to work there.”

Looking at the reasons behind these regional differences, Justin Kyriakou, ICAEW’s Regional Director, North West and Midlands, says: “The landscape of Nottingham and Manchester tends to be bigger firms, with many involved in audit – and members are telling us that audit roles are becoming hard to fill because audit is no longer seen as something younger recruits want to do.” 

Kyriakou said that Nottingham and Manchester were traditionally popular destinations for new recruits, with many moving to these cities to take up positions with the Big Four. However, the cost of living in major cities has made urban life less appealing. 

“Some firms have reported that recruits are now much more interested in quality of life and the values of employers as opposed to ambitious careers. Smaller cities and towns that offer recruits the opportunity to work from home but also in a pleasant environment seem to have a much greater pull, according to our feedback. Recruits are also drawn to smaller practices where they feel they can have an impact, particularly in areas of social responsibility,” Kyriakou said. 

However, Kyriakou said member feedback in the East Midlands and the North West suggested that the recruitment market had softened in recent months and firms were now starting to fill many of the positions.

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