Business research

Make your professional services firm a talent magnet

Professional services are one of the most dynamic sectors of the Australian economy, with employment growth of 6.1% through 2021. Yet with this growth has come a shortage of suitable candidates. Compounded in part by a lack of new talent arriving from overseas, this shortage of candidates has become one of the biggest obstacles preventing companies from capitalizing on the demand for their services and maximizing growth opportunities.

To help you become an employer of choice, we’ve identified five trends that can help you attract and retain the best employees in the coming year.

1. Recognize that the era of “money first” may be at its peak

Due to widespread skills shortages, companies continue to face higher salary expectations.

“We’re finding that people’s skill sets don’t match the asking price,” says Ben Matthews, partner and national professional services manager at Grant Thornton. “People are looking for dollars right now, which can lead to turnover issues.”

Jason Elias, CEO of Elias Recruitment, also saw an increase in salaries – and many counter-offers. An example of this, he explains, was a candidate who was offered $20,000 more than his current salary by a potential employer, only to have his current company counter it with an additional $60,000.

While companies can’t prevent this from happening, Elias says they can “minimize the risk” by having a strong offer in other areas and noting a candidate’s purely monetary motivation as a signal of concern. potential alarm.

Elias adds that he has started to see the tide turn. “As the storm clouds build, companies are starting to get a little more cautious about offering big bucks,” he says. “They’re wondering if this lawyer is really offering $200,000 worth, or if this is really a $120,000 lawyer.”

2. Understand that, for many, benefits go beyond salary

When it comes to rewards, Deborah Stonley, director of people and culture at Maddocks, says she views pay as a “brutal instrument”. So, in addition to paying competitive salaries, the company focused on broader benefits or a “total rewards” approach. .

“This can include areas such as leadership and development programs, flexible working and parental leave,” she explains.

Meanwhile, Matthews says the recent ATO publication final guidelines around profit allocation, aimed specifically at professional services firms, may also have implications for senior executive compensation structures, particularly for non-shareholding partners. These partners could see their profit-sharing agreements need to change due to the new rules, with implications for senior executive retention.

“It’s generating a lot of uncertainty,” he says, “and it’s causing people to rethink their compensation structures and policies.”

3. Note the growing desire for autonomy

Elias notes that flexibility has become a top priority for candidates — but it goes deeper than purely lifestyle benefits. “Even if they agree to come to the office for five days, they don’t like being told that they to have to — they want to have a choice,” he says.

Maddocks saw the same among his staff. Stonley says the company’s employee engagement surveys show an emphasis on valuing not just flexible or hybrid working, but also autonomy.

“One of the biggest changes is that staff want autonomy, because that’s what they’ve had throughout the pandemic,” she says.

4. Put corporate culture first

Amid hybrid and flexible working, companies need to pay close attention to maintaining culture, which is more important than ever in a competitive job market.

“Culture is the fabric of a business,” says Matthews. “You can train someone if they lack a particular skill, but the hard part is making sure you attract the right kind of people.”

So how do you keep culture front and center?

Stonely highlights Maddocks’ wellness programs and focus on reconnecting in person; for example, team lunches, seminars and staff meetings. A key metric for Maddocks, she says, is for her staff to ‘stand up for’ the company – because that not only means ‘people are proud to work here’, but then encourage others to come and work for them. .

Cooper Grace Ward, managing partner at Charles Sweeney, agrees that a culture is essential and says that Charles Sweeney has a number of “building blocks” for maintaining the culture.

These include well-defined values ​​that help people understand the behavior each expects of them, and work groups that continuously look for areas of improvement for staff engagement. Additionally, Partners and Managers are responsible for engaging with all team members on a regular basis in areas such as career development and idea contribution.

5. Developing career paths: identical, but different

Meanwhile, traditional career paths are starting to change — at least for some.

“There was a time when becoming a managing partner of a top law firm was the holy grail of a legal career,” says Elias. “Now some people want to be corporate lawyers at a big company.”

At Maddocks, senior associates have access to a program to prepare them for partnership, particularly for business-related functions such as leadership. “Now is a good time to assess whether you want a partnership or another path, such as an internal or commercial role in a company,” says Stonely.

And while the predominant career path is still very partnership-focused for those who remain in private practice, there are also emerging areas such as operations and knowledge management to move into.

“Think of a student these days who might be studying, say, law and computer science. That’s going to open up whole new areas,” Stonely says.

Sweeny agrees that career paths have been changing for years, but that trend has been accelerated by the pandemic.

“We think the best way to support this is to take the time to explore each team member’s individual needs and aspirations,” he says. From there, it’s about “finding ways to create some alignment between their personal goals and what’s offered at the team and corporate level.”

The year ahead is sure to present great opportunities for professional services firms. If they master the key trends discussed here – and retain or recruit the best staff – they will be well positioned to take advantage.