It may come as somewhat of a surprise that the unemployment rate among accounting professionals is half of the unemployment rate in the US. This 50% figure illustrates how critical the need is for competent employees across the accounting profession.
According to Bureau of Labor statistics, as of April 2019, the US added around 140,000 new accounting and auditor positions to the workforce. Although it is start, the global workforce pool for the accounting profession is still too small.
Why is it so hard to find and retain skilled accountants these days? The answer to the question is rooted in the appearance of sophisticated automation software and artificial intelligence as well as an industry bias about the qualities that make a good accountant.
There has been a shift in the way businesses view accountants. More businesses today are looking for accountants that they can rely on to be trusted advisors, not just bean counters.
So, what can the accounting industry do to attract and prepare a new generation of accountants?
One of the first areas the industry needs to review and refine is educational standards. Institutions teaching accounting need to be hiring professors and staff that understand the fundamental shift in the accountant’s role from scorekeeper to advisor. Consequently, the role needs to be broadened to attract those that really enjoy problem solving, analytics, critical and strategic thinking as well as mathematics and keeping score. It is important to provide a future generation of accountants with the knowledge to not only master sophisticated software accounting programs but to also master the analytical and critical thinking skills necessary for the accountant to derive insights and value from the data sets that the business can use to gain a competitive edge and stay competitive in the market. Educational programs need to develop innovative frameworks that will prepare students for diverse careers in accounting that reach far beyond mere audit and tax roles.
The second important aspect to preparing future accountants lies in the ability to provide on the job training. Change in the industry is rapid and as the industry moves towards assuming the role of advisor as a primary responsibility, students will need real world experience and on the job training that encompasses more than accounting principles. They will need on the job training for such skills as leadership, selling techniques, motivating others, negotiating and other soft and hard skills not necessarily associated with the accounting previously. Advisors need a well-rounded understanding of the business and a broad skillset and toolbox from which to draw.
Businesses need to partner with schools and universities to create new frameworks that take into consideration the ever-broadening role of the accountant. Doing so will help to make the accounting profession more appealing and hopefully enable businesses to attract a bigger job pool of candidates who are better prepared and qualified to be the trusted advisors’ companies are looking to hire.