Why work in public finance? 8 insights from ACCA

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For many finance professionals, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed both where and how we work. It has required us to adapt to new environments, develop new skills and capabilities while ensuring we look after our well-being during these difficult periods.

Insights from ACCA research demonstrates why the public sector is more than ready to make these changes and how the public sector can provide current and future talent with
the skills, drive and motivation needed to be ready for the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.

The list below includes insights from our recent research and thought leadership, as well as an advance sight of the results from our global survey that will be published in December 2021.

1. The stability of a public sector career is a major pull for future talent

Private sector companies risk structural changes, mergers, acquisitions or closing down but as one senior ACCA member and shadow minister of Bermuda told us, ‘a government is never going to shut down’. 88% of public sector respondents in ACCA’s research on Generation Next agreed – the respondents, all under the age of 36, said they were attracted to employers with good job security – a significant benefit of working in the public sector.

2. Generation Z working in the public sector report the highest level of work-life balance

Around half of public sector respondents in ACCA’s research on Generation Z said they were satisfied with their work-life balance compared with 14% in large accounting firms and 28% in large private organisations. Particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic, future talent is increasingly concerned with well-being at work and an important aspect of that is a good work-life balance – a perk well-known to exist within public sector organisations.

3. Young public sector professionals are more entrepreneurial than their non-public sector counterparts

84% of public sector respondents in ACCA’s research on Generation Next wanted to start their own business at some point in their career – the highest level of entrepreneurial intention of any sector. These public sector respondents said their colleagues also had entrepreneurial ambitions – 66% of them said their fellow finance professionals would choose to be entrepreneurs rather than pursue a traditional finance career. Demonstrating that public sector careers can be diverse, exciting and lead to a number of different unexpected routes.

4. The purpose-driven impact of public sector work continues to attract and retain talent

87% of public sector respondents in ACCA’s research on Generation Next said they are particularly attracted to organisations with interesting work. For the public sector, the work has never been more interesting. Particularly during COVID-19, public sector officials have had to procure vaccines and medical supplies at speed, ensure children were able to receive education often from home and reallocate and reprioritise public resources to meet the demands of the pandemic. The impact of this work has also never been more important – as the Chief Financial Officer for the City of Johannesburg told us, public sector employees are often ‘motivated by the desire to make a positive difference to their communities’.

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5. Careers in the public sector are diverse, international and ripe with exciting opportunities

ACCA’s research on Generation Next found that public sector respondents are planning diverse and exciting careers. Over three-quarters of respondents told us that they would like to pursue a role in a different country or region at some point in their career. The respondents were also more likely than those in other sectors to have worked for multiple organisations. The global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that global qualifications like ACCA will become more in-demand than ever before. Allowing public sector finance professionals to work in a variety of roles and regions with few limits on where a public sector career can take them.

6. Public sector finance professionals have been developing critical skills to adapt to remote working (early insights from ACCA’s upcoming report)

Not only is remote working a key component of good work-life balance and allows for flexibility in how office work is conducted, it has been essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. 61% of public sector finance professionals in ACCA’s upcoming report on Rethinking Public Financial Management reported having sufficient skills and capabilities in adapting well to remote working. Meaning that while a significant number of public finance professionals were able to adjust to this new working environment, there is still work to be done to ensure all public sector organisations can adapt effectively. The pandemic accelerated this shift to remote working and the public sector around the world is having to keep pace with these changes. Despite bumps along the way, the public sector is well on the way to transitioning to more remote and flexible forms of working when needed – maintaining business continuity and ensuring employees can work safely at home during times of crisis.

7. The public sector is undergoing a significant digital and technological transformation (early insights from ACCA’s upcoming report)

Over 70% of survey respondents for ACCA’s upcoming report Rethinking Public Financial Management believed the government will provide more public services digitally after COVID-19. In addition, around 60% of respondents believed skills in technology and digitisation will be essential in the future of the public sector. The pandemic has, according to Deloitte, ‘accelerated the use of technologies in the public sector and remade the case for further transformation’. This will likely continue to develop as a result of the pandemic – meaning those working in the public sector will have the skills, training and capacities to carry out their roles digitally.

8. The public finance profession stands ready to face future challenges (early insights from ACCA’s upcoming report)

Almost half of respondents in the survey for ACCA’s upcoming report on Rethinking Public Financial Management believe that as public sector finance professionals, they have sufficient skills in business continuity planning. Almost half of respondents also said this skill would be one of the most important priorities for the future. The public sector has always demonstrated innovation – 91% of respondents in a previous ACCA report on Innovation in Public Finance reported some level of innovation in their organisation. This innovation and ability to continue normal processes during a crisis means the public sector can evolve to respond to what lies ahead and can continue to demonstrate strong and effective leadership.

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