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Audit & Beyond

Retaining talent: the big issue for audit firms

Author: ICAEW

Published: 10 Mar 2023

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Whether you think of it as the Great Resignation, the Great Reshuffle or simply a Great Big Pain, staff retention and turnover have recently become more of an issue for audit firms.

When the Audit and Assurance Faculty held its 2022 annual conference, 73% of attendees identified “attracting and retaining talent” as the biggest practical challenge firms face, ahead of other thorny issues such as new and revised standards on auditing and quality management, hybrid working and profitability.

Attracting and retaining talent became the main theme for the event’s panellists. Their discussion highlighted how their firms are being affected, what’s been driving and elevating resource concerns, and offered insights into how firms are addressing the challenges. For auditors who did not attend the faculty event or were too engaged by the discussion to take notes, the following outtakes and quotes may offer some reassurance, reminders and recommendations.

Drivers behind resource concerns

  • Speed and magnitude of change in regulations/the regulatory environment.
  • Technology advances and related working practices. 
  • Negative narratives and stereotypes around audit. 
  • A diminishing talent pool.
  • Fewer qualified staff with more work to do.
  • Fewer good quality people who want to stay in audit.
  • The personal risks of working on some types of audit client.
  • Workforce priorities/expectations in a post-COVID world.
  • Culture – especially among millennials and generation Z.

Approaches to attracting talent

  • Tell a more positive story about audit as a profession.
  • Communicate beyond your echo chamber – as a firm and profession.
  • Be clear on the value and relevance of audit and the positive difference it can make.

Could you do more to highlight the public interest role? The impact of scope changes around environmental, social and governance reporting? 

  • Share stories about what is exciting, interesting, enjoyable and fulfilling about audit. 
  • Clearly communicate the firm’s culture and values.

Does your firm’s website reflect its approach to equality, diversity and inclusion? Do your partners and managers?

  • Broaden the base of potential candidates. 

Does your firm offer work experience opportunities to local school leavers? Does it consider candidates without directly relevant degrees? 

  • Help candidates to decide whether yours is the right firm for them.

Can you offer mentors? Connect candidates with others in a similar role/at a similar level? Share examples outside your firm? Illustrate the future, by outlining possible career paths?

Approaches to retaining talent

  • Value everybody.
  • Deliver on the firm’s commitments to workers – or trust will quickly erode.
  • Lead by example. Do what you say.
  • Illustrate the future.
  • Be clear on the firm’s strategy and its implementation.
  • Reinforce the message that everybody in the firm is important. Whoever they are, whatever they do. 
  • Identify good people. Tell them they are valued – and keep telling them.
  • Maintain good relationships and stay in contact with people who leave – they may want to return.
  • Find the right person for the right job during recruitment and selection processes. 
  • Don’t make assumptions about what people want. Listen and be flexible enough to look for ways to accommodate that.
  • Conduct regular and anonymised surveys, to get a feel for what people value and what they want. Some love the 9-5; others want more flexibility. Not all auditors want to be a partner or move on from their current role. Ambitions and circumstances may change. 
  • Use mentors to facilitate indirect communication across internal hierarchies, to support people who may want to ask challenging questions or raise concerns.
  • Be proactive about building and sustaining relationships between remote team members – a sense of camaraderie makes it easier to be mutually supportive. 
  • Think ahead. You need to plan if you want to facilitate home working, support working parents, respect religious holidays and other ways of fostering equality, diversity and inclusion.
  • Be intelligent in your approach to wellbeing. No two people are the same. Put structures in place to maintain a good balance for as many people as possible. 
  • Be mindful of the link between mental health and matters such as being in a constant change environment and increasing workloads, both of which can be stressful – and could impact audit quality.

Utilise the services of CABA and regularly remind people what’s on offer.