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Women workers are key to filling long-term skills gap

12th Sep 2001
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Failure to tap the potential of a growing number of women workers will stifle the prospects of many UK businesses - according to the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT).

With the number of women workers projected to rise over the next 10 years (whilst rates for men fall)*, the AAT believes that organisations will need to look to the female job market if they are to address critical skill shortage areas - particularly in the accounting industry. [* DfES: Labour Market and Skill Trends 2000]

Jane Scott Paul, AAT Chief Executive, explained: "Not only do companies need to address the issue of skills shortages in the wider employment market, but they need to address their own internal skills gaps. Failure to train and develop an accounting support workforce that is already 80% female (against a national workforce average of 47%) would prove a huge long-term mistake.

"More women are taking their place in the accounting industry and we need to make sure that they are trained and equipped to continue. This does not just mean technical capability, but also wider business skills. They need to be able to communicate with customers as much as they need to produce financial data, balancing their technical 'know-how' with practical experience."
Ms Scott Paul believes that companies will need to take a serious look at their internal training, if they are to tackle these accounting skills gaps head-on. "Training is a long-term investment and needs to be integrated into any forward-looking business development plan. Planned and supported correctly it could have a significant impact on the bottom-line, increasing staff retention as well as morale," she said.

Regarded as a predominantly female occupation, payroll administration has become increasingly complex due to changing employment legislation and European directives. The AAT's NVQ/SVQ in Payroll Administration was launched in February 2000 to address the acute shortage of payroll administration skills across the UK and, in addition to developing specialist technical knowledge of payroll functions, aims to provide staff with wider workplace skills such as communications, IT and project management.

Utility provider, Atlantic Electric and Gas Ltd has offices in London, Cardiff and Gloucester. Employing nearly 200 staff, the company is firmly committed to training and is working with the AAT to expand its payroll section and develop the skills of its female staff.

Karen Stephens, Human Resources Officer at Atlantic Electric and Gas Ltd, explained: "Our payroll is growing rapidly and we felt it would be a major advantage to have more staff with practical payroll knowledge. This will enable queries to be dealt with quickly in-house without referral to our outsourced payroll bureau - saving us both time and money.
"That's why we chose to train our staff with the AAT. The AAT's payroll qualification is flexible in both its structure and delivery. We benefit from the convenience of multi-skilled practical staff, while our staff benefit from a recognised industry qualification."

AAT student and Atlantic's Accounts Assistant, Natasha Flaherty, agreed: "I chose to study with the AAT because I believe the wider my accounting skills, the more assistance I will be to my employer. A payroll qualification will help increase my knowledge and I will be able to assist my colleagues if necessary."

Completion of the AAT's NVQ/SVQ in Payroll Administration will also entitle Natasha to become an Affiliate of the Association, from which she can then progress to full Membership - a move HR Officer, Karen Stephens, would be more than happy to see. "It is important for all staff to keep their skills current and up-to-date, and membership of a professional body such as the AAT is one of the best ways to do this. It will also enhance our own in-house pool of technical knowledge," she said.

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