As director of Michael Page Finance in Australia, I am fortunate to gain regular insights into the movements and trends of the marketplace for finance & accounting positions. I’m excited to share that the profession is changing (for the better!)  and becoming more agile and more flexible. Employers are restructuring their departments and looking to upskill their existing headcount. Here are some of my personal reflections on the past year and some predictions for 2017:

Looking back on 2016

There were encouraging signs in 2016 as it was a strong year for accounting and finance recruitment in Australia. This renewed market confidence was a welcome boost for job seekers across the country.

A lot of activity was seen between the $80,000 - $200,000 salary bracket. Organisations of all sizes were investing in their finance teams, not necessarily by growing headcount but by bringing in fresh talent from outside the organisation to re-fill vacant positions with more senior, more skilled and more capable individuals.

Sydney and Melbourne were the busiest markets, whilst Perth remains challenging as they recover from the decline in investment within the mining sector. Despite these challenges within mining we saw the market in Queensland hold steady. There are a few industries where we noted significant growth opportunities, including: FMCG, retail, healthcare, pharmaceutical, property, IT&T, education, government and not-for-profit. In contrast, declining industries included mining and resources, manufacturing, and engineering – although businesses in these sectors are capitalising on opportunities to recruit transformation-focused individuals.

Within the candidate market, the number of active and passive finance job seekers was and remains at an all-time high. More people are motivated by professional development, seeking out new challenges and are much more willing to take on risks – this is complementing the new way business is being done in Australia.

What will change in 2017?

This year, I expect to see more growth in mid-cap-size businesses ($250-$700 MIL), while billion-dollar businesses will be more likely to reduce headcount, particularly at the junior level where they can make efficiency gains through investment in technology and outsourcing programs. By mid-2017, I anticipate many senior-level finance professionals will have found new positions, which will create turnover in the market.

For finance professionals, we will likely see an increase in contract roles. Contracting is a great opportunity for professionals to prove themselves, break into a new industry and take on new projects. In addition, a lot of employers have put in place a permanent recruitment freeze, so now may be the perfect time to explore these contract positions.

In-demand finance roles

I expect that the following specific role types will be in high demand this year:

  • New Age CFOs – particularly within SME/midcap-sized companies; for these roles, you must have a broad skillset that covers both strategy and hands-on accounting experience.
  • Risk professionals – large corporates will seek to take more risks in commercial decisions.
  • Finance business partners – companies are seeking individuals who can add value to the business by identifying profit-making or cost-cutting opportunities. This goes beyond analysis and reporting to encompass stakeholder management, relationship building, data analysis and presentation of recommendations to non-finance literate stakeholders.
  • Financial controllers and accountants – individuals with strong technical accounting skills coupled with excellent communication skills and the desire to partner with the business or manage and mentor a team, will be in high demand.

Tips for finance professionals

The SME space has been extremely active, with many companies looking to recruit entrepreneurial thinkers with big corporate experience but the willingness to work in a small company.

Flexibility will be key for finance professionals to get ahead in their career – the environment is competitive, so it pays to take risks (e.g. take a contract role with a chance to move to a permanent role, or move from a big business to a small one).

The senior end of the spectrum is seeing a high level of competition. CFO-type roles receive an average of 200-400 applications – the entire market is looking for work, so be prepared to market yourself well if you want to get noticed.

Tips for hiring managers

It’s important to consider networks when looking for a new hire. Roughly 55% of new hires come from existing networks, and 45% come from agencies – so recruiting via referral and existing pools of talent is important.

A recent Michael Page survey found that 35% of SMEs say that a new hire will often leave their business within six months of being hired. These businesses are seeing the need to recruit top talent who can increase the bench strength of a smaller organisation, rather than ‘average’ employees.

What finance professionals want

The work and career preferences of accounting and finance professionals are changing:

  • Salary is no longer the number-one driving factor – instead, employees value job satisfaction and flexibility.
  • Gen Y ‘Millennials’ want to feel empowered and feel they’re making a difference. They need to be challenged and want to feel valued as employees. Their ideal finance role involves them in decision-making.
  • Learning and personal development is a new focus for professionals at all levels. Businesses who can offer further development will have an easier time retaining talent.

Check out the latest finance and accounting jobs in Australia. If you're looking to expand your team or looking for a new role, you can also contact me.

Summary

In-demand finance roles in 2017: CFOs (particularly within SME/midcap-sized companies), risk professionals, finance business partners, financial controllers and technical accountants.

Tips for finance professionals in 2017: Flexibility will be key for finance professionals to get ahead in their career. The senior end of the spectrum is seeing a high level of competition. CFO-type roles receive an average of 200-400 applications – the entire market is looking for work, so be prepared to market yourself properly.

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