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Finance: In Search of a New Generation of Financial Talent

Feb. 4, 2014
Many finance executives simply can't find staff with the right skills, suggesting that there aren't enough top-drawer finance people to go around.

There's a belief within manufacturing circles and other industries that finding financial people to fill job openings is a relatively easy and painless process. After all, when you factor in the oft-quoted statistic that more than a third of Americans are not in the workforce, how hard could it be to hire qualified finance professionals, right?

Actually, it's plenty hard, according to Paul McDonald, senior executive director of specialized staffing firm Robert Half. There is a supply and demand imbalance for talent, he notes, "with the demand for highly skilled workers outpacing the current supply."  The most desirable workers right now are either already employed or entertaining a number of job offers.

Competition for financial and business analysts in particular is fierce, McDonald points out, and they can pretty much choose where they want to work. Since companies are understandably keen on attracting top talent to fill key senior and managerial finance and accounting roles, they're relying on a best practice that works almost every time: bigger paychecks. Forty-five percent of the CFOs polled in a recent Accountemps survey say they are raising salaries to attract and retain professionals with in-demand skills.

See Also: Manufacturing Industry Finance News & Trends

And the pot-sweetening doesn't stop with higher salaries, either, McDonald adds. In the same CFO survey, 46% say they are improving benefits, while 42% say they are investing in training and developing internal candidates.

But simply throwing money and a competitive compensation package at potential hires isn't getting the job done, as many finance executives simply can't find staff with the right skills, suggesting that there aren't enough top-drawer finance people to go around. "It's no longer just a war for talent; it's clearly shifting into a war to develop talent," observes Jeff Schwartz, a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP's Human Capital practice. "As businesses struggle to fill critical positions at many levels, and as the requirements for the leadership pipeline change rapidly, companies are putting renewed focus on building -- versus finding -- capabilities."

"This talent gap is a crisis," agrees David Elrod, financial director at Microsoft Corp. and dean of the IMA (Institute of Management Accountants) Leadership Academy, and it's gone unsolved for decades. What's more, this competency crisis is having an alarming effect on companies' potential for future growth. "A variety of factors, including a narrowly focused accounting curriculum and lack of on-the-job training, are part of the problem, but clearly, there is no silver bullet that will make accounting and finance professionals excel at a global level," Elrod asserts.

Financial management is a much different task than it was a generation ago, Elrod notes, as it now calls for analytical thinking, problem solving and communication skills, as well as a diverse technical skill set and a solid knowledge of IT trends. Problem is, the old guard is retiring at a faster pace than their replacements can be groomed. "We're losing precious talent and skills that aren't being replaced. We have to catch up."

Who are the top 10 CFOs in manufacturing? Find out at

To that end, the IMA has launched, an online community of professionals, employers, students and academics, to attempt to plug the skills gaps. One of the goals of the forum is to come up with potential solutions that will close the gap between what employers need from accounting and finance staff and what undergraduate students are learning in school.

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