By Michael D. Colgan, PICPA CEO & Executive Director
I am sure many of you are familiar with the famous “Got Milk” advertising campaign that has been prominent from the mid 1990s until last year. Every time a new celebrity or group was featured in the campaign, people were talking. The campaign itself had more than a 90 percent awareness factor in the United States. Well, over the past several months I have had the opportunity to see well over 1,000 PICPA members at various events and firm visits, and the predominant topic of discussion has been talent, as in Got Talent?
The annual survey by the AICPA Private Company Practice Section bears this out as firms of all sizes describe talent as their No. 1 issue/concern this year. Some of this we have brought upon ourselves (hiring trends, firm models) and some is beyond our control (demographics). During the economic downturn several years ago, many firms delayed or cut-back on new hires as a result, and now everyone is searching for CPAs with 5-10 years’ experience. They are just not out there. An aging population includes 8,000 baby boomers retiring each day for the next 10 years, and CPAs are not exempt from those retiring.
On the positive side, accounting enrollments now account for 6 percent of undergraduates in U.S. colleges and universities, up from 2 percent in 2000, so the pipeline of students has grown. However, even with a record number of accounting graduates and hires by CPA firms, not everyone entering the profession is completing the CPA Exam. Many nonpublic accounting opportunities in the job market are attracting accounting graduates, and trends suggest that the future job demand will continue to grow.
As a membership organization, it is imperative that the PICPA assist our members in addressing the issue of talent. Earlier this year we released our Firm Culture Study that addressed the varying needs and expectations of different generations in the workforce. We also continue to provide outreach to potential accounting students as more than 1,500 high schoolers recently attended career programs with the PICPA. We have also expanded our financial literacy programs, all including a message regarding accounting careers, to the elementary and middle-school levels to expose more students to the opportunities within the accounting profession. Going forward, it will be critical for the AICPA and PICPA to expand resources and programs to demonstrate the value of the CPA credential and the success proposition that the designation will provide throughout one’s career.
CPA firms are in a growth mode. Finding and, more importantly, retaining top talent will continue to be a primary driver of that growth. Common ground regarding workplace expectations will continue to require adjustments on both employers' and employees' sides. This shift is happening, but not quickly enough. The economy is not going to slow down and wait for the public accounting firm model to evolve to become more attractive to the talent that is entering the workforce. As reinvention expert Claire Cook said, “If plan A did not work, the alphabet has 25 more letters.”
PICPA Council has established a task force to study the CPA pipeline and changing demographics in an effort to help our members with a solution to the Got Talent? issue. Stay tuned for the results of its study. In the meantime, I encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences related to talent and how the PICPA can help you create success going forward.