By: Eric Hunt - A major challenge in the accounting industry today is attracting and retaining quality talent. This issue seems to be discussed everywhere: industry conferences, partner meetings, media outlets, and college campuses. Rarely a day goes by that I do not talk to a firm that is worried about finding and keeping great team members. In the October issue of Inside Public Accounting, their Annual Analysis of Firms revealed how this is the #1 challenge faced by firms today. The IPA article stated, “Nearly one-third (31.3%) of all respondents cited recruiting and retention as a major challenge.” The #2 challenge was “Enhancing/Managing Growth and Profit” at a distant 10.6%. Clearly this strikes a chord with many firms and it is not going away anytime soon. With the Baby Boomers getting ready to retire in the next few years, the shortage of talent will be more evident.
What can firms do now that will help ease the strain?
Firms need to begin to develop talent at all levels by:
- Creating a Training and Learning Culture
- Hiring a Learning Coordinator or outsourcing those duties
- Providing life balance to all team members
- Efficiency through technology
The best people want to be challenged and feel that they are important enough to be given continual training. Management must meet these desires by creating a culture of learning and training within their firms. All employees must understand the importance of their growth through new learning experiences. In great firms, management leads by example. This includes areas of training such as new software, new tax laws, soft skills, sales and much more. Firms need to dig deep to determine the areas of training that are most important and then put resources behind it. Once team members start to buy-in to the idea that growth through learning is valued, they will seek out new challenges and learning opportunities within the firm. It is win-win for the firm and the team members!
Who is going to ensue that all team members are getting the right training and are growing professionally? Many firms designate a Partner or a person in Human Resources for this. We recommend hiring an adult learning professional for your firm. This person will be responsible for the acquisition, organization, follow through, and development all aspects of the firm’s training and learning program. This person should not be a CPA and should have experience teaching adults. Many small firms combine the HR piece with the learning piece. We have found that firms with a person solely dedicated to learning and training have the largest positive impact on the overall performance of their team. For the smallest firms, we would recommend outsourcing this function to a larger firm that provides training services, for cost justification purposes. Take this function out of the partner’s hands and let them grow the firm through their strengths. As team members see a person totally focused on their improvement, it will allow them to better understand their value to the firm.
“Young people don’t have the work ethic I did when I was coming up”. This is a common statement by many Baby Boomers in today’s accounting firms. This may be true in some instances, but it actually reflects the difference in thinking from one generation to the next. Gone are the days of working 70 hour weeks. It just doesn’t fit the modern employee’s mindset. They desire to have more quality time with their families than they had with their parents. Working that many hours actually becomes counter-productive; and work performance and moral both suffer greatly. It is necessary in today’s competitive environment to be able to provide team members with life balance and to support it from the top down. Allow your team members to work realistic schedules with support and you will see happier more productive teams. It is one more piece of the overall puzzle that keeps teams strong and together.
Great firms attract and retain quality talent by doing all the training right but separate themselves even more by being leaders in technology. It is absolutely necessary for firms to be efficient through the use of technology. Technology efficiencies allow teams to use their time better, leading to more productivity and improved performance. Firms have to be willing to keep up with the trends in technology. The best people naturally gravitate to firms that understand this and will more likely stay with these firms. Going paperless, for example, is just one of the many trends firms are moving toward to be more efficient through technology. With the dearth of talent right now, firms need to become as efficient as possible to relieve the strains of the workload on their current teams.
In summary, the industry is facing a major shortage of quality talent. That means that the best firms will focus and decide how they will meet this challenge. Training and technology should be the building blocks in any plan to develop the new crop of great people. Start immediately to develop talent in all areas of your firm and allow team members to grow into the assets your firm desires and needs. Great people will attract great people. The firms that offer the best training and development programs and use technology to maximize efficiencies will find the shortage of talent as less critical as firms that don’t.
© Boomer Consulting, Inc. Eric Hunt is the Marketing and Sales Representative for the consulting firm of Boomer Consulting, Inc. located in Manhattan, Kansas. He works extensively in the area of sales support and development. His main areas of focus include the Boomer Technology CirclesTM, client services, and the implementation of Boomer Consulting, Inc. marketing initiatives.
Eric Hunt, Boomer Consulting, Inc.
Manhattan, KS 66502