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2024 hiring and retention predictions for professional services

2023 was a challenging year for recruitment as the market levelled out following the hiring boom that happened after the pandemic. As the new year unfolds, hiring is evolving. AI is on the rise, the workforce is changing and employees are looking beyond salary and benefits when seeking a new opportunity.

So what does 2024 have in store? Following discussions with many professional services clients, Ambition’s Nicky Acuna Ocana considers five things for the year ahead.

1. The hybrid working debate will continue
Most professional services firms adopted hybrid working following the pandemic when there was a surge in demand for a more flexible way of working.

This was an unprecedented shift from the full-time office working setup firms had been used to, and the debate over how many days a week employees should be in the office has been constant ever since.

A survey of 20,000 people in 11 countries by Microsoft in 2023 found that 85% of business leaders believe the shift to hybrid work has made it harder for them to have confidence employees are being productive.

As a result, the number of days required in the office has gradually increased for most professional services firms. Towards the second half of 2023 and moving into 2024, increasing numbers of firms have been expecting employees to return to the office a minimum of three to four days a week.

As many professional services clients return to the office four or five days a week, it will be interesting to see if the need for even more days in the office continues to rise in 2024.

2. Equity, Diversity and Inclusion will remain a priority for professional services firms
ED&I is high on the agenda for firms in 2024. Business leaders now recognise that having a diverse workforce enables teams to work more creatively, become more resilient and innovative and, in turn, create higher profits for teams.  

2024 will see the continuation of firms being held accountable for their ED&I policies and having to demonstrate that their policies aren’t just a tick-box exercise.

As Gen Z workers become more prevalent in the workforce, they want to see living and breathing examples of diverse role models and to see diverse backgrounds being represented and embraced.

Creating a sense of belonging and inclusion is incredibly important to many employees. Jobseekers increasingly seek out a firm’s ED&I policy before they commit to an interview or job offer.

As a result, firms are increasingly looking at collecting and sharing data on their ED&I statistics to back up their policies and track improvements.

3. The spotlight on pay transparency will continue
The gender pay gap has been a consistent issue, despite the focus on equal pay legislation. To combat this, pay transparency has become increasingly important with new legislation or policies being introduced in several countries such as Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Iceland, Lithuania, the UK, and the US.

This will continue to be a focus in 2024 and beyond until gender parity is achieved.

4. Values and culture will be increasingly important for talent attraction and retention
Many professional services firms now offer very similar packages and benefits which are indistinguishable to potential employees.  

To attract top talent, firms need to concentrate on their values more than ever before and ensure that these are at the forefront of their strategic aims for the firm’s growth in 2024 and beyond.

These values should be living and breathing to ensure people understand what the firm stands for and how they can be a part of the culture. This is what will differentiate them from the competition.

We will see challenges in the market, with a continuation of what we saw in 2023 of being more of an employer-led market. There will still be competition for highly skilled candidates as crucial talent will be needed for business-critical roles.

There will be a larger pool of people looking for work and recruitment agency relationships will be essential to connect talented people to firms looking for high-calibrepeople.

In the current landscape, employee retention has become paramount for firms. Salary isn’t the pull for employees it once was. People expect to be paid their value and market rate, but they also want a firm that embraces a culture that believes in and promotes EDI and ESG and is clear about the value proposition they offer.

Firms need to recognise the importance of ensuring they are making their firm a great place to work. Creating a harmonious culture that values collaboration and communication is imperative in modern-day employment, where both parties create and shape the work environment.

By focusing on culture and values, this creates a stronger, mutually beneficial relationship between employers and employees that celebrates and rewards contributions and helps to drive retention and attraction of the best talent.

5. Professional services firms will embrace AI or risk being left behind by their competition
AI could have the most profound disruption for professional services firms that they have ever encountered. Boardrooms are asking not if but how AI will shape the future of their business.

AI is set to redefine how thought-driven tasks are approached in professional services businesses within consultancies, accountancy practices and law firms.

AI will not replace all current roles, but the people who know how to use AI will.

The traditional structure of a typical professional services firm will have a large number of junior employees doing necessary but basic entry-level work. As you progress in your career, you move up the hierarchy, but the number of managers and executives progressively decreases.

If you consider a structure supported by AI, routine/mundane tasks are now running these tasks allowing middle management to concentrate on building relationships with clients and offering/delivering valued strategic support. This enables more time for teams to focus on creativity, innovation and building new business relationships.

The critical point will be how will firms keep hiring a more junior intake of people to enable them to develop and grow the essential skills required for middle management and executives if they are not learning from a bottom-up approach.

To ensure success, business leaders need to invest in training programs to ensure teams are learning how to utilise AI and to empower people to work in collaboration with AI to improve efficiency, not necessarily being replaced by robots.

In professional services, people buy from people. AI will struggle to match human characteristics and capabilities hence the need to invest in and amplify human attributes.

These are my top five predictions for hiring and retention in professional services.

Anything you agree/disagree with? Or anything else you think will be a key trend this year? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Nicky Acuna Ocana is the Regional Managing Director at Ambition UK, Europe and US.

Matt Baldwin
Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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