Despite recession, finance job competition stays strong

CFO hiring plans and an uptick in employed workers searching for new jobs indicates the start of economic recovery

Finding qualified candidates for financial services and accounting positions should prove easy with the U.S. unemployment rate near 10 per cent. However, firms have encountered a competitive marketplace as they search for the right employee, according to a new survey.

Locating skilled finance professionals has proven challenging to half of the CFOs interviewed for Robert Half International's Financial Hiring Index report. That figure represents a four-point increase from the third-quarter survey and is up from 34 per cent in the second quarter's survey.

The nation's 9.8 per cent unemployment rate does not accurately reflect the finance and accounting sector, which requires skilled, educated workers, said Brett Good, senior district president for staffing firm Robert Half International.

"Employers are under the belief that there is a treasure trove of highly skilled individuals that are available for the plucking," said Good. In reality, the unemployment rate for the finance and accounting industry tallies three per cent to five per cent since the segment requires employees with a college degree and specialized skills, he said.

When companies find the right person to fill a business analyst position or with tax experience -- jobs that CFOs interviewed for the survey said they expect to hire for in 2011's first quarter -- firms are discovering that other businesses are seeking staff with the same professional background. This situation did not exist two years ago, and companies may need to offer a more lucrative compensation package.

According to Good, businesses are "coming around to the reality of the marketplace" and can no longer offer potential hires an average salary and expect to attract qualified staff.

"You can't lowball on salary and perks and get the candidate you're looking for," he said.

Greater demand for skilled hires has generated small pay increases for jobs in the IT, legal and finance fields, Good said.

Firms may need to improve their offers, with two per cent of CFOs reporting in the survey that they expect to hire full-time accounting and finance workers in the first quarter of 2011. The report noted that the figure is slight, but said that it represents the category's strongest showing in two years.

Greater job competition, plans to hire staff and U.S. government reports of robust corporate profits should indicate the recession's end and the advent of economic recovery.

"There is a cautiousness in the air still," Good said, adding that labor figures indicate that the economy may be on the mend.

Good cited a U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics report released Tuesday, which found 1.7 million workers were laid off or discharged and 2 million quit their positions in October. "Quits tend to rise when there is a perception that another job is available," the report said.

This means that workers are voluntarily leaving their jobs because they believe better employment opportunities exist, Good said. This trend mirrors employee satisfaction surveys he has read in which workers said they would quit their jobs and look for new employment as the economy improved.

"The BLS numbers say that people are doing this," he said. "Coming out of the last recession, that was a sign that things were picking up."

While businesses in certain sectors, like IT, generate quarterly profits, prosperity has not reached all market segments, a requirement for greater recovery and increased hiring.

"We're still not at the point where we've seen broad revenue increase across a variety of industries," Good said. "When this thing has legs to it we'll see more hiring."

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