By Claire West

A survey of staffing in finance and accounting departments conducted by recruitment specialist Poolia has revealed a more positive economic outlook for business in 2011, though uncertainty over staffing will remain. Most companies (57%) are predicting revenue growth and many (40%) expect an increase in projects in the new year, with over 30% anticipating growth in headcount. However, there is residual unease and 17% of respondents also predict further redundancies next year - a similar level to 2010.

Such an increase will put further strain on an already stretched employee base. Even where recruitment is planned, many companies are experiencing difficulties in recruiting skilled finance and accounting employees, especially at managerial levels (38% have faced issues recruiting) and for transactional clerks (40%). They will not be able to assume skilled employees will be easy to find in 2011, especially as many see the talent pool as only average to poor. Only just under 5% of respondents rated candidates a nine or a ten where ten is ‘very high quality’, whilst almost a quarter (23%) of respondents rated the majority of candidates interviewed across all recruitment channels as only four to five.

Of the majority of businesses that have succeeded in holding on to most of their finance and accounting employees through 2010, they see the main reason for staff looking for a new job in 2011 will be for career progression (59%) and remuneration pay (17%). At the same time, the majority (72%) of respondents currently think competitors and candidates see their business as an ‘average’ place to work (six to eight on a scale where ten is ‘an amazing place to work’). This means that companies will have to find a balance between running a lean productive cost base and becoming an employer of choice, able to offer good prospects for talented people.

Lee Shepherd, general manager at Poolia’s finance and accounting practice, predicts the current recovery will create a race for talent in 2011: “2010 has been a busy year for the heads of finance, as businesses have continued to keep departments trim, freezing headcount, and as the battle to find people with the right skills to fill vital gaps has intensified. Whilst growth is expected by most, the long term prognosis will continue to be challenging.

The recession forced companies to cut down on vital trainees, which means businesses will need to be recruiting ready trained, experienced staff at a time when skilled candidates are hard to come by. We’re clearly seeing an increase in interest in requests for qualified accountants, and 2011 is shaping to be a good year for business, but albeit another testing year for finance and accounting.”