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Why Ignoring Early Talent Programs is a Mistake for Accounting Firms

February 2, 2023
Parker Pell

The Wall St. Journal reports that more than 300,000 accountants have left the industry in the last two years, a 17% decline. And - to make matters worse - there’s little faith in the ability to backfill the roles. The number of students majoring in accounting continues to shrink: the latest numbers display a 9% decline across the last ten years. 

All of this is to say: the pipeline of entry-level accountants is shrinking, while the turnover of existing accountants is increasing. Accounting candidates are more valuable than ever before and the bidding warm to recruiting, retaining, and replacing them has intensified. 

The state of the accounting job market

2022 was a banner year for the accounting industry, forecasted to have generated over $141 billion dollars. Despite record dollars, the industry has faced dwindling workplace numbers since the 2008 recession. Dubbed a “pipeline problem” by some, these top-of-funnel challenges (the retirement of Baby Boomers, low CPA exam candidate numbers, and an ongoing difficulty of recruiting diverse candidates to the profession, to name a few) are contributing to an accountant shortage. The struggle, perhaps made most obvious by the newest workforce generation, centers around industry value proposition. Accounting, an industry known for high burnout, sluggish salary growth, long hours, and monotonous work, has butted up against Gen Zers who demand sufficient work-life balance, high salaries, job flexibility, and instant gratification. 

So, why should accounting firms invest in early career talent?

  1. It’s a fast track to digitalizing and modernizing their hiring processes
  2. It challenges companies to analyze their culture
  3. It helps grow in-house talent

“The environment in which we operate features significant change and, for progress to occur, accounting professionals must navigate through this changing environment. Those who do so will reap the associated financial and professional rewards at a cost to those unwilling to change.” -Richard C. Jones, Ph.D, CPA, Associate Professor of Accounting, Taxation, and Legal Studies at Hofstra University 

Investing in early career talent is a fast track to digitalizing and modernizing your hiring processes

With virtual and remote work part of our daily operations, assuming this new normal as part of the Gen Z recruitment and engagement process is no exception, especially since Gen Z views technology as an extension of themselves. Accounting firms who use the right technology across their hiring processes can strengthen their strategy to ensure a modernized, yet personalized, candidate experience. This includes both talent acquisition technology, onboarding technology, and enabling more efficient workflows such as remote work capabilities. 

Online recruiting platforms like Handshake (“a LinkedIn for college students”) can help expand a firm’s reach, platforms such as RippleMatch or Untapped can facilitate sourcing underrepresented talent, and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) can help manage candidate applications, resumes, and other documentations. Additionally, candidate experience and onboarding platforms (like Abode!) can help simplify and streamline the hiring process from start to finish. 

Given the state of the accounting industry, it’s no surprise that many of today’s professionals desire a more sustainable work/life balance and the ability to work remotely. Research by Robert Half shows that over half of finance and accounting professionals said they plan to look for a new job that offers remote work if their company requires them to return to the office. Using technologies to allow employees to work remotely or in a hybrid format can position your firm at an advantage in being able to recruit and retain Gen Z talent.

It challenges companies to build a culture that speaks to Gen Z

Gen Z is a generation of activists who value environmental sustainability, social justice, and corporate responsibility. For their buy-in, show how your firm upholds and practices environment, social, and corporate (ESG) governance, involve them in such initiatives, invite them to join available employee resource (ERG) groups, and ensure any diversity and inclusion initiatives are made transparent and actionable. Above all, challenge your efforts to be authentic and personable (Gen Z will listen!). 

It can help grow in-house talent

Firms are seeking to introduce students to the accounting profession as early as middle and high school to help grow their pipeline of talent (and debunk stigmas around the accounting profession). This effort aims to shift the perception of accounting from a generational profession to a widely recognized and desirable profession, similar to becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Nevertheless, early career programs allow accounting firms to identify and attract top talent while they are still in school or early in their careers. Successful programs can build a strong pipeline and help retain top-performing employees for the long term. 

Talent teams can also use these programs to give sneak peeks into their company culture, mission and values, and overall employee experience, in addition to grooming employees for the requisite skills, knowledge, and competencies required to succeed. By understanding and investing in the overall development of early-career employees, firms can ensure they have a strong pool of candidates to draw from in the future. And - let’s not forget - programs like internships can be a great way to get uninterrupted, valuable time with top candidates, furthering your reach and impact. 

What can you do?

“The future of work is here, and its name is flexibility. Whether a firm has an on-site, remote, or hybrid model, the profession needs to suit the lifestyle of its workforce…for our colleagues and the firms that embrace these changes, the opportunities are there for the taking.” -Charles Weinstein, CPA, CGMA, CEO of EisnerAmper

Accounting firms can stand out to Generation Z by modernizing their recruitment approach, aligning their mission, values, and culture to Gen Z, and investing in talent, early. With a solution like Abode, accounting TA teams can facilitate engagement and community in a singular space, provide a library of company-specific resources, connect candidates to hiring managers, and more, all while gaining real-time insight into candidate behavior on the backend. It’s never been easier to understand candidate engagement with Abode.  Book a demo today to take your accounting team to the next level. 

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