The Accounting Talent Shortage Gets an Action Plan

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It has been widely publicized that the number of accountants needed to do the job has dwindled, as have the concerns over how to attract new talent to the profession. According to a new report, based on months-long surveys among state societies, educational institutions, and students, there is an action plan in the works to address the most pressing issues in accounting.

Based on this exhaustive survey work, the National Pipeline Advisory Group (NPAG), an independent group of stakeholders working on behalf of the U.S. accounting profession, has released a set of draft recommendations to address the accounting talent shortage. The proposals fall within six broad themes and target audiences that range from high school students to accounting professionals who have spent five years or less on the job.

NPAG, composed of 22 members who represent a cross-section of roles and perspectives within the profession, was convened last summer by the AICPA, but has conducted its research and deliberations independently, facilitated by ConvergenceCoaching LLC.

A final report from the group will be issued in July, including the results of its survey of students, employers, and other stakeholders in the profession. Until then, you can read a draft and executive summary here:

Some of the high-level recommendations from the group are, in my view, very much in line with issues I raised at the end of last year in my INSIGHTS Magazine article, addressing the question of what it is truly going to take for the profession to have a viable future.

As for NPAG, they recommend the profession do the following (in no particular order):

Tell a better story.

While an accounting career can lead to prestigious and financially rewarding work, misperceptions about the profession are persistent. It’s time to collectively do more to turn the tide. Among other recommendations, NPAG is urging accountants to take the Pipeline Pledge – making a commitment to lend their time to encourage students, nurture new workers and convey how they’ve built fulfilling, respected careers.

Prioritize strategies to expand access for the underrepresented at every stage.

It’s critical the accounting profession reflect the demographic makeup of the U.S. We can build better awareness of accounting careers among underrepresented populations through targeted messages, scalable college-bound experiential programs, and closer relationships between the profession and colleges and universities with high minority populations.

Enhance the employee experience by evolving business models and cultures.

With changing demographics and even greater labor shortages projected in the future, students have an almost unlimited number of career and employer choices. The profession needs starting salaries that are competitive with other fields vying for top talent. Employers need to continue their efforts to make workloads more manageable, tasks more interesting, and advancement opportunities clearer.

Address the cost and time of education.

NPAG supports a defined progression to modernize CPA licensure requirements on education. One consistent framework would guide this approach: An emphasis on mastery and readiness instead of merely time spent in school or on the job. These steps are:

1.) Experiential learning that offers an opportunity to earn college credits through an accredited college or university.

2.) Experiential learning outside of academia, delivered in a more structured way by an employer or third party.

3.) A longer-term plan to create a competency-based licensure model not tied to university credit hours or experience time.

Make the academic experience more engaging.

NPAG endorses ongoing efforts led by the academic community to retool introductory university courses with best-in-class resources, technology, and training for educators. Principles of Accounting courses should give students a sense of the prestige and purpose an accounting career can deliver, along with attractive lifetime earning potential.

More formalized support options should also be expanded to encourage students to stick with accounting programs.

Provide better support to CPA Exam candidates.

Recommendations include addressing the cost of the Exam, simplifying the application and eligibility process and reworking the content and/or format of the Exam itself.

The AICPA also weighed in on the recommendations and the report itself, issuing the following statement:

“The board continues to urge diligence to minimize any impact on CPA mobility, an interwoven system of state laws that allow CPAs to practice outside their home jurisdiction without having to apply for additional licenses or face additional administrative burdens or fees. Minimizing or eliminating those disruptions is key and a nationally coordinated and cohesive plan on licensure changes represents the best path forward to achieve that goal. Unilateral actions by states will be highly disruptive to CPAs and the businesses that engage or hire them and should be avoided.”

For my part, I am looking forward to reading the full report, and my personal hope is that firm and industry leaders, as well as educators beginning at even the middle and high school level, do indeed take these recommendations seriously. Moreover, make some real efforts to make the necessary changes, to engage students and staff, to meet them where they are, and to truly highlight the amazing characteristics (and characters) this profession currently offers. Tell a better story? Amen to that!

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