The Great Resignation: What Does It Mean for CAs(SA)?  

The journey that this article takes towards describing the impact that the latest economic trend to shape the labour market has on CAs(SA) begins with this crucial question: what do Beyoncé and the Great Resignation have in common?   

You might be scoffing incredulously, but it’s a valid question. When Queen Bey dropped her 2022 summer smash hit “BREAK MY SOUL”, avid listeners drew some close parallels between the club banger and the economic phenomenon of the Great Resignation. Particularly, it transpires, in the verse, “Now I just fell in love/And I just quit my job”.  

In a pithy line, Beyoncé may well have described the conditions of the Great Resignation. Under the circumstances of the pandemic, many of us were forced to reflect on what we really want out of our lives and our careers. More on that later. But, what specific outcomes does the Great Resignation portend for CAs(SA)?  

The Great Resignation, or the Great Reshuffle?  

Broadly speaking, the Great Resignation (also called the Big Quit, which has delightful Big Short-level potential) describes the ongoing economic trend in which employees are voluntarily resigning from their jobs en masse as of early 2021. 

The possible motives for this mass exodus are as numerous as they are varied. Wage stagnation, shrinking opportunities for career advancement, hostile work environments, and inflexible post-pandemic remote work options are among the most logical reasons for the Big Quit.  

But, it’s also likely that the conditions of the pandemic invited many of us to do a lot of introspective reflection on what we want out of our jobs and careers. And, for many of us, that looks like doing things differently than we did before.  

For that reason, it might be more accurate to say that we’re experiencing a Great Reshuffle rather than a Great Resignation, which some experts have already suggested. This theory is supported by the fact that, although resignation rates are still high, workers in Western countries have also been rejoining the labour force in droves since late 2021.  

A lot of these employees were probably looking for a change of pace. As Kristy Illuzzi, Principal of SME/SMP and Research at the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), reflected in a June podcast with Neil Amato

I think [being forced to work from home] caused a lot of people also to just rethink their priorities. They were home, spending more time with family, perhaps caring for ill family members, small children that were home, and priorities shifted. And I think a lot of people got used to that, and in some cases, they are now demanding the flexibility and the ability to continue to do their jobs that way.  

We don’t need to spell it out. The pandemic bred new social and economic circumstances which have proved to be significant motivators for many labourers – across all industries, not just accounting – to seek out different ways of doing their jobs, if not to seek out different work altogether. So, that brings us to our most salient question… 

What does the Great Resignation mean for CAs(SA)?  

In a June IFAC article which she co-authored with Steven Fields, Illuzzi points out a shortage of accounting professionals, especially in the US. One of the reasons that this is happening is because other sectors (like mining) are poaching them, making it difficult to keep them on in their native companies. 

The other problem facing the US accounting profession is a rapidly shortening talent pipeline. There are simply insufficient numbers of accountants graduating and entering the field to keep up with the demand for the work. Some members of the IFAC SMPAG predict that these trends may endure for another 5-10 years.  

Illuzzi voiced her concerns about these trends back in her podcast with Neil Amato when she said that,  

…one of my fears of being a CPA here in the US is that we are hearing that there are less people going into the progression and because I think that the need for qualified professional accountants globally has only gone up since the pandemic.  

In the wake of the Great Reshuffle, are CAs(SA) going to fill that gap?  

Are accounting firms prepared to counter the Great Resignation?   

A December 2021 Business Tech article on the same subject describes a “historic shortage of newly qualified CAs” in South Africa as many either take advantage of international opportunities or migrate to companies which accommodate remote work.  

According to the article, South Africa has seen a spike of some of its best and brightest accounting professionals flock to the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, the Middle East, and tax haven islands. After all, we boast some of the best-qualified accountants and auditors in the world. As a bonus, we come built-in with that world-famous and highly desirable South African work ethic!  

The bottom line  

In order to compete with international vacancies (read: opportunities) left by the Big Quit, they may have to offer their employees greater work flexibility and autonomy. It may be the best strategy to keep top talent on home shores, lest they skip the country humming “You won’t break my soul!” under their breath.  

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