In the strengthening economies of Ireland and Northern Ireland, demand for qualified and trainee accountants alike is rising, and the Big Four are busy scouring the talent pool
This article was first published in the March 2015 Ireland edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
According to specialist accounting recruitment practice Barden, demand rose by a third last year as both foreign direct investors and SMEs sought experienced professionals. The Big Four are also recruiting heavily, especially since Deloitte, EY and PwC established new hubs in Belfast to support global activities.
Paul Vance, head of recruitment at KPMG in Ireland, which has 1,900 people north and south of the border, says: ‘In both Ireland and Northern Ireland we’re seeing the improving economy result in increased demand for our services, and that’s reflected in our own recruitment plans. We’re the largest private sector recruiter of graduates in Ireland, so in many ways we act as a bellwether for the wider economy.
‘We’re not under any illusions – good candidates have choices as to specialisms within the accounting profession and where in the world they go, so firms have to be as attractive as possible. For most hires this ends up being a combination of remuneration, the range of client opportunities, training and career progression. For graduates, a firm’s track record of success in professional exams is also a major consideration. Our recruitment model at all levels is a mixture of direct application and some agency engagement. It varies widely depending on the role and the type of candidate we’re looking for.’
KPMG is also targeting qualified accountants who left the country during the recession but are now interested in returning home. Vance explains: ‘The good news is that Ireland is seen as an attractive place to live and work. We’re certainly meeting some people who have worked and travelled abroad and who see that the economy, in both NI and in the south, is providing better opportunities, and we aim to tap into that vastly improved sentiment.’
PwC is the Big Four firm with easily the largest presence in Ireland. Its staffing is 2,843, up slightly from 2,806 last year. About 1,200 of these are based in NI, following a substantial expansion. PwC is currently undertaking a big recruitment process for its Belfast operations, while also continuing its steady recruitment in Ireland.
A spokeswoman for PwC says: ‘We haven’t changed our recruitment approach. We held our graduate recruitment numbers right through the recession. If we had stopped recruiting graduates we would have damaged ourselves for the future. We are recruiting 250 graduates each year in Ireland, plus some 50 or so who are professionally qualified.’
Graduate recruitment begins in late August when the firm goes out to colleges, interviews people and assigns presentations to them. The spokeswoman explains: ‘It is a long process of getting to know them. It is based on their qualifications, background, and how well they present themselves at interview. Their presentation skills are especially important at the moment. We don’t just recruit business graduates – science and engineering graduates are also very important to us.’
PwC is the only one of the Big Four that does not operate on an all-Ireland basis, with NI integrated as part of the UK rather than the Irish operation. Lynne Rainey, a director with PwC’s forensic consulting team in NI, who has responsibility for managing graduate recruitment, says: ‘PwC in NI is one of the region’s biggest graduate recruiters, both for aspiring accountants and those seeking a career in consulting and our new technology and related businesses. Over the past year, we’ve recruited over 200 new staff and will recruit around a further 900 over the next 36 months. The majority of these are graduates or recent graduates with some work experience.’
One of the consequences of the spate of investments and expansions in NI’s business and financial services sector has been a tightening in the graduate labour market. So while there is still no shortage of graduates, there is now greater competition for them in the recruitment market.
‘Our profession is changing,’ says Rainey. ‘It’s no longer just about becoming an accountant; we are developing people who will become trusted advisers, will work internationally, and will enjoy exciting, rewarding and varied careers. Communicating those opportunities to an increasingly selective graduate market is the challenge.’
Rainey adds that PwC’s experience suggests that the best recruiters for those new career opportunities are its own staff. The firm goes into schools, colleges and universities, participates in recruitment fairs and runs its own open days and recruitment evenings, with partners and staff talking to peers, alumni groups, schools and universities.
PwC increasingly makes use of social media to share its publications, research and insights, which helps create curiosity about career opportunities in the firm. It’s targeting students from NI who are at universities in the UK, and has developed a number of higher apprenticeship programmes aimed at school-leavers. In the context of soaring university fees, these programmes are popular.
‘We conduct face-to-face recruitment fairs in colleges, universities, our offices, social media and the web,’ says Rainey. ‘For experienced hires, our experience suggests that publishing research and thought leadership in the professional journals and media that are read by recruitment target groups – such as on cyber, data analytics and technology – creates curiosity, and we can generate a surprising number of direct applications. We’re also looking to existing staff and inviting them to move into more specialised and experienced roles.’
Deloitte has just under 2,000 staff across Ireland and NI. Rose Hogan, Deloitte’s resourcing manager, says: ‘Deloitte in Ireland has achieved significant growth in recent years, and we expect all areas of our business to grow in the coming years. In order to support that growth, attracting and developing exceptional talent locally and globally is vital. We work together with clients on their most complex business issues to create an impact that really matters for them. We foster a high-performance environment and so offer challenging and rewarding career opportunities.’
Deloitte is currently recruiting for over 100 positions across all areas. ‘We are looking for motivated individuals to pursue an exciting and challenging career at Deloitte,’ says Hogan. ‘The breadth of services we offer means we are looking for professionals from diverse backgrounds and at all levels in audit, tax, compliance and regulatory consulting, data analytics, information security and advisory, technology consulting, strategy and operations, and financial services consulting.’
Of the Big Four, EY has the smallest presence in Ireland. It employs 1,527, including 147 in NI. But the figure for its Belfast operation is set to soar, with nearly 500 staff being taken on.
Mike McKerr, managing partner for EY in Ireland, says: ‘We achieved market-leading growth in the 2014 financial year of 17.3%, growing all four of our service lines. But EY’s success is about much more than financial results, it is also about the people who enable us to deliver exceptional client service. Last year, EY appointed eight new partners and increased its graduate intake to 200.
‘As the economy recovers, we have a responsibility to create opportunities for young people in our profession in order to reverse the recent migration and ensure sufficient talent exists to meet future market demand.
‘We aim to attract local talent, but we are also reaching out to those who have emigrated to come home and build a future with EY.’