Would you recommend the CPA profession to your kid? This is a question I used to ask the partners of my firm in Buffalo. I did our firm’s recruiting and felt this was an important question, because every new hire was someone’s kid. And in a small market like Buffalo, chances were, I actually knew their parents. I had to look those parents in the eye and tell them that when their child accepted a job with my firm, it was the right career move. I felt it was important for the partners to understand, if there was something in the firm that wasn’t good enough for their own kid, they had the power to fix it.
That same question sparked some lively discussion when I posed it to a group at the AICPA’s E.D.G.E. conference in Austin, Texas, this month. It goes without saying that the CPA profession provides virtually unlimited opportunities, offering a solid set of core competencies that can be put to work in a wide range of situations. Our CPA training and credential have formed a solid stepping stone for many of us, myself certainly included, to a very rewarding career. It’s also very clear that the profession has a great future ahead of it, and is worth recommending to anyone. According to the AICPA’s , enrollments in accounting programs and degrees awarded are at all-time highs, confirming the popularity of the profession as a career choice. Nearly 15% of universities with accounting programs are receiving more applications from qualified applicants than they can admit, and more than 60% expect increased enrollment in both MBA in accounting and MA in taxation. And there are jobs waiting for the students who graduate from those programs. Public accounting firm hiring has also hit a record high, especially at the master’s degree level. A total of 89% of public accounting firms said they plan to hire the same or more graduates in the following year.
That data was supported by the findings of the , which revealed that finding qualified staff was a significant concern for firms of all sizes. Staffing had been the top issue for most firms since the survey’s inception in 1997, but that changed during the recent recession, only to return this year as a clear high priority.
Having said all that, it’s also true that many CPAs might have some reservations about recommending the profession to a young person, given some of the challenges that practitioners face. Although AICPA makes important inroads on critical issues in Washington, seasonality and workload compression continue to be serious concerns. The compressed season and last-minute changes this year only underscore that point.
We are also working hard to make the profession more inclusive by bringing in and encouraging the advancement of more women and minorities. One significant effort is the AICPA’s , which includes representatives from minority professional advocacy groups; large, medium and small firms; state CPA societies; and leaders from business and industry, government and education, all working together to develop strategies that will enhance minority representation and progress in the profession.
But we still face some challenges. According to the AICPA’s 2013 Trends report, over the course of their careers, fewer minorities progress to the partnership level than do their non-minority counterparts, demonstrating the ongoing need for efforts to remove the barriers that impede career growth.
Similarly, even though women have represented about one-half of all new CPAs for many years, less than 9% of CFOs and 19% of CPA firm partners are women, according to If there’s not a clear and accessible path to advancement for all our promising young CPAs, then it’s understandable that we may risk losing some talented second and third generation CPAs.
The good news is that every CPA has the opportunity to make a difference and ensure that the profession is one that we would all recommend unequivocally. Some of the questions you can ask that can help you to make a transformative difference in your organization or firm include:
- Would our employees consider this a great place to work? If you’re not sure, consider doing an informal employee survey to get some perspective. You may be surprised by the small changes, such as flexible schedules, paid time off or busy season workflow management adjustments, that can improve morale and alleviate stress and burnout.
- What kind of career path are our employees seeking? You can gather this information in staff reviews and use it to develop a plan for each employee’s future. Some may dream of becoming partner or managing partner while others may prefer to stick with their current responsibilities for the long term. In either case, helping them to meet their goals will improve their satisfaction. One way you can help them meet their professional goals is to consider where they stand in your firm’s succession plan. The AICPA’s , Oct. 28 to 29 (for medium firms), Oct. 29 to 30 (for large firms) and Oct. 31 (for sole practitioners), is meant to help current partners and emerging leaders gain key insights into determining who is ready to take the reins, preparing emerging leaders to do so and writing and implementing the firm’s succession plan.
- Is our organization inclusive? The AICPA National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion and the both offer information and resources that firms and organizations can use to expand their reach and ensure they’re getting the best people from the available talent pool.
Addressing the issues that these questions raise can help you take steps that will create an even more rewarding path for future generations of CPAs.
Like most CPAs, I would gladly choose accounting as a career if I had to do it all over again and I wholeheartedly recommend it as a career for my thirteen-year-old son. In fact, the AICPA is asking members to share their stories about when they first realized they wanted to be a CPA, whether it began with a love of numbers, an inspiring parent or family friend or a great college professor. I hope you’ll , too.
, Vice President, Firm Services & Global Alliances, American Institute of CPAs.
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