by L. Gary Boomer, CPA, CITP, CEO - According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Baby Boomers comprise 60% of the prime-workforce today. A year ago it appeared accounting might follow a shortage in IT talent around the year 2005 or 2006. Today it looks like the shortage will occur in the accounting industry first and has already started in selective parts of the country.
This is particularly true with auditing and accounting skills. California firms are reporting shortages of experienced accountants and auditors. This can be directly related to the demand for accountants created by Sarbanes Oxley and the shortage of accounting graduates in the United States. Universities have reported increased enrollments in accounting, but the increases will not be significant enough to offset the Baby Boomers scheduled for retirement over the next 10 years. Your firm is unusual if you don't have any Baby Boomers.
Firms can take a proactive stance in developing and executing strategies that will differentiate them from competitors in both public accounting and industry.
Some of those strategies are as follows.
- Operate from a strategic plan.
- Develop a training/learning culture.
- Provide employees with a career advancement plan.
- Hire bright people even if they don't have accounting degrees. Firms can teach technical skills.
- Improve systems and processes.
- Utilize job descriptions and hire based upon unique ability (requires testing).
- Improve the work experience and firm culture.
These strategies require leadership and spending non-chargeable hours working on the firm. According to our most recent survey of firms representing approximately $4 Billion of revenue in the accounting industry, firms are just under 50% chargeable. Spending some of those non-chargeable hours on these strategies may be the best thing you can do for your firm. Working on the firm is often more important than working in the firm. Let's take a brief look at each of these strategies and why they are important to firms in their quest for talent.
It is difficult to attract quality people if the firm doesn't have a clear and communicated vision. Owners must be on the same page. Too many firms are comprised of owners sharing overhead and operating with multiple visions. Quality people do not like to work in this environment. A simple one-page plan that states the firm's vision, mission, values and strategic objectives will go a long way in creating a culture in which everyone is working toward common goals. It is important for all personnel to understand the strategic plan and to set their own personal goals and objectives based on the overall firm plan. This strategy will help the employee feel connected to the firm by relating their goals to the firm goals.
Most accounting firms train their staff even if at minimal levels. Training and learning are a two-way street where personal development is given a high priority and everyone grows. Employees are concerned about maintaining and increasing their skills. Hiring a firm training/learning coordinator, providing facilities and continually providing learning opportunities will be a big differentiator among firms. With regard to technology training, partners and administrative personnel tend to gain the most benefits.
Committed, motivated employees want to improve and advance. Firms that provide opportunities for growth and advancement will also differentiate themselves and be able to attract and retain quality employees. Firms that are not growing tend to rapidly depreciate their intellectual capital. Growth requires planning and attracts talent.
Hire Bright People
The fact the number of accounting graduates is low should not keep firms from hiring bright people. Many bright people did not get a degree in accounting. Look at other industries and employers. They hire the best and brightest and provide training and growth opportunities. A training/learning culture and career advancement opportunities must exist in order to attract the brightest people. Firms must also be willing to pay above average wages. Just remember that average is where the worst of the best meets the best of the worst. Average is not good enough for most people and certainly not for the best in the market.
Improve Systems and Processes
Many of the systems (processes) used in firms today have not been reviewed or re-engineered for decades. Technology has been employed, but the systems themselves have not been streamlined to take advantage of the technology. Unique processes that have meaning and improve the client and employee experience will do wonders for attracting bright people and growing the firm. "We have always done it that way" has never been a good reason to resist change.
Utilize Job Descriptions & Hire to Unique Ability
Everyone has unique abilities; the things they enjoy doing and are exceptional at. In most firms employees are not tested and matched with a job description. While firms may have the right people on the bus, they often have them in the wrong seats. People are frustrated and generally not very productive when they work outside of their unique ability (wrong seat). The Kolbe Index can assist in matching requirements with unique abilities. How productive could your firm be if everyone really liked their job?
Improve the Work Experience
"Quality of Life" is not just a buzz word floating around these days. It is a reality when you are looking at the requirements that our new work force is expecting from us. You are not able to just accept the seasonality of the work some of us have come to expect. Do something about it.
Employees don't want to work 70 hour weeks during January to April. Firms that are creative in staffing will become more attractive places to work than peers who simply accept it. Utilizing interns, part-timers and outsourcing are just of a few of the strategies that may improve the work experience in your firm.
Accounting is not on the Bureau of Labor statistics list as one of the top 10 fastest growing occupations. Most of the jobs are in technology and health care. Differentiation is always important in a competitive environment. Therefore, be creative, build relationships and provide leadership. These are the things that create value.