By Elisabeth Felten, CPA
I have the honor to speak on The Future of Accounting at the PICPA Not-for-Profit & Government Accounting Conference on July 25 and 26. This topic would highlight challenges in any climate, but given the current economic and demographic shifts, predicting where we may be going is particularly daunting.
Certainly, accounting focuses on numbers, but the work we do in the profession is really about the people and relationships behind those numbers. Therefore, any discussion of the future of accounting must include trends in the current talent pool – a pool that is shallow. Not surprisingly, accounting faces the same staffing issues as other industries. Additionally, accounting has long had workload fluctuations and seasonal variations in staffing. But with the knowledge loss now taking place due to the "Great Resignation,” capacity constraints have magnified. During the conference, I will share new research that signals some unique challenges specific to our industry.
In my session, I will introduce the workforce demographic Generation Z, also called Gen Z or “Zoomers.” If Gen Z could be summed up in one word, it would be “disruptors.” Having taught them at the university level for several years now, I have found that, despite their young ages, they are a force to be reckoned with. Their generation, with its “TikTok activism” and values-based decision-making, is redefining the workplace and work itself. Employers who ignore the needs of this group will regret it.
The group that follows Gen Z is a wild card. College enrollments are expected to drop significantly in what academia is calling “The Higher Education Cliff.” There has also been a shift away from the traditional college education path, leading to fewer people pursuing a four-year degree. That is a bad sign and a significant problem for the accounting field given that the industry requires an additional year of study to obtain a license.
Women in accounting represent about 60% of the workforce and have roughly 80% salary parity to men. While our Asian-American colleagues have made gains in the profession, our indigenous colleagues and colleagues of color remain underserved. Latinx, African Americans, and Native Americans combined fill less than 20% of accounting jobs and are paid less than their white counterparts. Alarmingly, students in all these demographics are not choosing to study accounting. We are missing out on a vast and talented pool of candidates who offer diverse perspectives needed in our field.
There is some good news, however. Technology is giving accounting an opportunity to upgrade how we work. While we need humans to solve the deficits in diversity, technology can bring some relief to the capacity issues facing the industry. Automation can play a key role in filling workforce gaps, improving accuracy, and increasing efficiency, thus reducing the workload of existing staff and freeing up time to do higher-level work.
Accounting’s future will have its challenges, but with flexibility, open minds, and a focus on diversity and inclusion, we can navigate the difficult times ahead.
Elisabeth Felten, CPA, is assistant professor of business at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pa. She can be reached at email@example.com.
To hear more from Elisabeth Felten, join us at the PICPA Not-for-Profit & Government Accounting Conference on July 25-26. You can attend in person in Hershey, Pa., or join us via webcast. Sign up today.
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