Accounting Jobs Are Safe in Current Economy

By Gail Perry

More than 1,400 CFOs across the country were interviewed and provided information for Robert Half International's quarterly Professional Employment Report. Key findings indicate that more than 90 percent of CFOs said they expect to maintain current levels of staff accounting positions for the second quarter of 2012. This represents a significant increase over the first quarter, when only 69 percent said they intend to maintain current personnel. Four percent of CFOs said they plan to add employees, and 5 percent indicate plans to decrease the number of staff positions.
 
AccountingWEB spoke with Mark Glochowsky, controller at Schuler Shook theatre planners and lighting directors in Chicago, Illinois; Peter Cullen, partner at Core Performance Consulting in Newport Beach, California; and Rick Pranitis, industry consultant in Brighton, Michigan, who shared their pointers on the types of questions controllers should be asking themselves to make sure their staffing decisions are correct.
 
If you're in the position of advising CFOs and small business owners about staffing issues, these are the talking points you should keep in mind.
 
Cullen asks:
 
  • What does the funnel look like? What sort of forecast do we have going into the next quarter? Do I have enough business to keep going? 
  • Am I holding on to my current clients? Some of my work is recurring work - am I holding on to that? Is it holding steady? Is it going to grow? Have I lost some clients? 
  • What's happening with overall costs; are they holding steady? 
Glochowsky asks:
 
  • What are the business volumes that you're dealing with and what, if anything, has changed? 
  • To the extent that those volumes may have gone down, that could have driven someone to make a staffing change, but only if they would anticipate they were going to stay that way because there are significant costs with any kind of a reduction, just as there are with adding staff. 
  • If you were going to add staff, you would have to determine if there has been an uptick in your business volume or any other projects. If you're looking at a temporary uptick, you would want to look at temporary staffing before adding any permanent staff. 
  • Is it the case that business conditions are firming up or have reached some sort of equilibrium that the employer can be comfortable with? 
In particular, if you cut back on staff in the first quarter, Pranitis suggests you should ask yourself:
 
  • What's the impact of that cutback? 
  • How has that cutback affected my productivity and customer experience? 
  • How are my clients/customers reacting to changes I've implemented in the organization? 
  • How has that cutback impacted my bottom line? 
  • Did I get the results I was looking for in that reduction? 
  • Do I need to reduce more, or did I get better results from that reduction than I expected? 

Cullen suggests that you take a look at what's happening with the current staff: Are they doing okay, are they getting the job done, do they seem to be falling behind? 

If you didn't reduce staff in the first quarter and things are starting to look up, Pranitis suggests you consider these factors:
 
  • Check all of the above points to see if the results are proving out your suspicions. If the economy is getting better, productivity should be getting better, there should be more work to do, and revenue should be up, 
  • Evaluate key performance indicators to make sure they're still accurate and, if they are, what are the leading indicators telling me - should I stay this way, consider reduction, or ramp up? 
If you're a staff accountant and hoping to have a secure future, here are some points that Pranitis suggests you consider:
 
  • Survey results indicate that you've got some breathing room to increase your value so that you're still sitting in a good position in three months. 
  • Keep your network current. 
  • Pay close attention to competition. 
  • Work more closely with your client base to see what they're doing and where you can improve/solidify/reinforce your relationships. 
  • Take a look at your industry and see what's new and innovative, and see if you can incorporate those new tools into what you're doing - both in terms of cutting-edge and practical applications. 

In addition, Glochowsky points out the importance of continuing to expand your skill set, learning new software packages, obtaining additional certifications, getting a graduate degree if you don’t have one, pursuing CPA certification - "These are always going to make you more competitive. You have to be to show you can add value." 

Finally, Cullen reminds us that "everything is moving to the cloud, in terms of your knowledge base and skill set, you have to be transitioning from desktop applications to cloud-based applications." He suggests employers should make sure their staff members have access to training resources they need.

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