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Guest comment: Time for action on skills shortages

Gemma Allen, director of the professional services team at recruitment firm Robert Walters, tells us why Ireland’s finance companies need to get creative about finding staff and retaining staff.

The Irish candidate shortage is severe and about to get severer still. 8,000 new jobs are expected to be created in the Irish market in the next five years and the Dublin labour pool alone will be unable to fill them.

In this situation, salaries alone are insufficient to attract talent. Instead, it’s a question of drawing in candidates from overseas. For example, we recently visited Australia to target Irish professionals returning home when their Working Holiday Visas expire. We also make quarterly visits to the UK as it’s becoming easier to lure Irish people back from the London market.

At the same time we’re seeing Irish finance companies offer an increasingly broad range of benefits in order to keep the staff they already have. Some companies have begun offering flexitime, allowing staff to work flexible hours outside of core hours. For example, an organisation might let a staff member arrive at work anytime between 8am and 10am. They must work between 10am and 4pm (excluding lunch) and can then leave anytime between 4pm and 7pm. Once eight hours are worked – including core hours, they’re free to arrive and leave at their discretion. Other organisations are offering flexible benefits choices where staff can substitute cash for benefits depending on their personal needs.

Ireland’s finance companies are also becoming more flexible when it comes to who they’ll hire. Some fund administrators are looking at hiring from outside their industry – the insurance sector is one alternative source of staff, for example. With newly qualified ACA candidates in short supply (and salaries rising by 10% to 15% a year), there’s also a growing willingness to accept candidates without a Big Four background.

We’re also seeing increased use of contractors to fill the deficit of experienced permanent staff for roles like fund accountants, transfer agents and custody professionals.

Will this be enough to offset the looming skills crisis? Only time will tell. In the meantime, we expect demand to keep growing. Increased activity in the corporate sector is already feeding through to increased demand for newly qualified accountants, 2007 will, for example, see an increased demand for regulatory accountants with the introduction of Basel II in January 2008.

Fund accounting roles can already take as long as four months to fill. Will business cope if that rises to six months or even a year?

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