Accounting firms need to attract more students into the field to alleviate the severe talent drought, Leslie Murphy, chairwoman of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), told an audience Wednesday.
“Our profession has to do more to make it inclusive and attractive if we’re going to successfully compete with other career options available,” Murphy said in closing a conference in Boca Raton, Fla.
Demand for accountants continues to grow due to trends in business and regulation, she said.
“Business complexities mean it takes more time to complete routine accounting tasks, auditing standards continue to add to the work that needs to be done, and there’s a much higher regard for internal control and fraud prevention in every entity, large and small,” she said. “Addressing these issues requires a highly skilled workforce.”
Murphy was addressing more than 500 tax and accounting professionals gathered at a conference produced by CHH, a software and tax information company. In the keynote presentation, she and Mike Sabbatis, executive vice president of global sales and marketing for CCH, focused on the strategic business approaches for firms to attract as demand for accountants grows in the face of a labor shortage.
Murphy placed the accounting field in context with other professional services.
“High-skilled service firms and organizations – like those that employ accountants, nurses and lawyers – will face a more severe labor crunch because they are hurt by three dimensions of the labor drought: slower labor force growth, the graying of the labor force and the skill gap. As a result, firms will face severe competition for increasingly scarce and costly talent,” she said.
She feels the accounting field can do more by recruiting and recognizing female tax and accounting professionals. She pointed out that in the last 20 years, more than half of accounting graduates have been female, but that in 2005 only 19 percent of partners were women.
Murphy went on to explain that employers need to be aware of the needs of the new generation, to understand what motivates younger workers. Many graduates are interested in balancing career and personal life and seek out firms with attractive cultures.
With the graying of the current workforce, firms also need to plan for the near future to survive, she said.
“By 2020, three out of four AICPA members will be nearing retirement age. About 60 percent of firms have owners in the pre-retirement ages of 55-62, yet only 21 percent of all firms have a succession plan,” she said. “So, you have a significant number of professionals retiring, and fewer entering to fill their shoes. It’s clear that firms need to start thinking about their future today – how they’re going to meet their staffing challenges, how they’re going to motivate and recognize their employees, and how they’re going to groom leadership in their organizations – if they want to be around 10 or 20 years from now.”
Murphy also told the attendees that firms need to embrace technology to eliminate redundancies in labor, enable flexibility and boost productivity. Firms also should approach staff development on an individual basis, providing specific training to when and where it is needed.
“Ultimately, firms need to examine their business models and make sure they’re keeping pace with the market demands and drivers they’re faced with today, and they have to develop their staffing strategies to meet the needs of the workforce – which now spans four generations,” Murphy said. “The accounting profession is a vibrant, growing profession, but to sustain its health we have to examine how our firms are run and how they need to operate to meet both the challenges and the opportunities on the horizon.”
In closing remarks of the CCH User Conference, Sabbatis presented findings from the CCH Young Accounting Professionals Survey. He outlined four themes, which were present throughout the three-day conference, designed to help firms grow and prepare for the future: talent, training, technology and teamwork.
“Talent management is something that every firm now needs to actively pursue,” said Sabbatis. “Significant investment goes into recruiting. But to maximize investments, firms need to understand the workforce better. They must look at career paths and implement development programs that keep good employees eager to work for their firm.”