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Talent: Help Wanted (Part 1 of 2)

June 23, 2023

We begin with some editorial explanation. This topic – finding and keeping talent – is big enough that we’re stretching it over two posts. Our clients often cite the tricky task of identifying, recruiting, and retaining the right mix of people. Today, we’ll set up the sources and implications of the current scarcity of talent. In a later post, we’ll focus on what can be done about it.

It should come as no surprise that a recent CFO conference had a session called, “Talent Matters Most.” Maybe some of you attended it. A conference built entirely around that theme would likely set off a CFO registration stampede because more than 300,000 accountants and auditors have left their jobs in the last two years.

Today’s talent pipeline problem has roots in decades past. In the 1980s, CPA licensure requirements were raised from 120 to 150 credits, thereby extending university study from four years to five. Rather than accumulate more loan debt, many numbers-minded students began opting for MBAs or four-year finance degrees. Then in 2015, the AICPA predicted that 75% of its boomer members would retire by 2020. COVID was to blame for other early retirees. And while efforts like this TikTok campaign try to shrug off accounting’s reputation as being uncool, Millennials and Gen Zs often want “more meaningful work” than number-crunching. Just when the pickings got slim for hiring accountants and unemployment rates hit all-time lows, hiring managers in finance departments started fishing from the accounting talent pool.

It’s now a woeful tale: 82.4% of hiring managers for accounting and finance positions at public companies (68% at private companies) say talent retention is “a big challenge.” Those hiring at least one qualified accountant within the year jumped from 27% in 2020 to 47% in 2022. Among CFOs, 78% say they want more time on strategy and less time, say, putting out fires. Not to be alarmist, but this dearth of talent has led to questions on the stability of capitalism and comparisons to playing sports without referees.

 

"Over and over again, good accounting practices have produced the levels of trust necessary to fund stable governments and vital capitalist societies, and poor accounting… [leads] to financial chaos, economic crimes, civil unrest and worse.”
– Jason Soll, The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Making and Breaking of Nations, 2015

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