9 Feb 2016 11:00am

Accountants resilient to recession

The accountancy profession is more resilient to recession than many other employment sectors

Accountancy is one of the most recession-proof private sector professions in the UK, according to research by recruitment agency Randstad.

The accounting profession’s aggregate salary bill has risen by 11.5% in the past 12 years, growing from £12.7bn in 2002 to £14.1bn in 2014 in real terms, while the average wage bill for all private sector professions has plunged by over a third (36.8%), the research found.

The management consulting profession’s total pay bill fell from £6.9bn to £5.7bn between 2002 and 2014 – a decrease of 17.3%, while the average aggregate salary bill of those in the travel agency industry, plunged by more than half (55.6%), falling in real-terms from £946m to just £420m in the same period.

The tech sector was the exception to this rule – alongside the accounting profession – with the industry’s total salaries bill increasing 81.7% from £17.3bn in 2002 to £31.5bn in 2014, making it the most recession-proof industry.

Social workers, nurses, transport professionals and teaching professionals were also among the most recession-proof industries, while engineering professionals, police officers, building trades, retail workers and electricians featured alongside the management consulting profession and travel agency industry as the least recession-proof industries.

Tara Ricks, managing director of Randstad Financial & Professional, said, “Accountancy is recession resilient. The profession’s comparatively high aggregate salary bill demonstrates accountants are in the enviable position of being in demand whatever the financial weather.

“During sunny economic periods, they can pick up consulting work. In more choppy fiscal waters, accountants become an invaluable source of risk advice – while the demand for tax advice and audit work is never going to dry up. By contrast, other private sector professionals, such as retail workers and builders, are more vulnerable to the economic climate.”

The research also highlights strong people growth in the accountancy profession. The number of people registered as accountants in the UK and Ireland rose by 40% from 245,712 to 343,753 between 2002 and 2015, while other sectors such as construction and sales professions have experienced sharp falls.

According to Ricks, the significant growth in the number of people employed in the profession has contributed to the talent war, making it more difficult to find the right person for the right job.

“Fortunately, given the pay, the opportunity to earn world-renowned qualifications and the recession-proof nature of the job, the profession remains a hugely attractive career to graduates. But, in the short-term, that won’t fill gaps at a more senior level,” she added.

The UK has seen employment growth across the board in the last 12 years. Despite the total number of people in full-time work in the UK increasing by 1.4 million, the country’s aggregate pay bill for full-time staff fell in real terms by 3% from £653.8bn in 2002 to £634.1bn in 2014, the research revealed. Across the UK economy, real-terms salaries declined by 8%, falling from £36,200 to £33,500 between 2002 and 2014, as salary rises in the 2002-6 period were reversed.

The research found that occupations with a large proportion of staff employed by the public sector have proven more recession-proof than those dominated by private sector employers.

Of all the private sector-dominated professions, only full-time accountants and technology professionals saw increases in their aggregate salary bill, which could rival those of their state sector counterparts.

Sinead Moore


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