Help Wanted (And a Lot of It!)

Technology and accounting firms are using imagination to find workers in a tight labor market.


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Stanley, Stuart, Yoffee & Hendrix projects that its revenue will grow by 20 percent this year. That projection, of course, also depends on how easily the Maitland, Fla.-based firm can find the consultants who install the accounting products it sells. But with consultants seeming about as common as winning lottery tickets, the Microsoft reseller has realigned and redeployed some employees.

Over the past six months, Stanley Stuart has converted two of its sales consultants to sales engineers in order to keep up with the increased demand for implementations of Navision and Serenic Navigator.

So far, that has been easier than trying to hire new workers, says Reagan Stanley, chief marketing officer. Now, instead of demonstrating ERP applications to clients, the cross-trained sales consultants implement systems.

Partner Insights

"The biggest problem is just finding experienced and certified people. It helps if you have people who are cross-trained,'' says Stanley. "That's made all the difference in the world as to how we have managed our growth."

As if the scarce labor pool isn't bad enough, Stanley says he becomes depressed when he sees that his firm is competing with its own vendor, Microsoft Business Solutions, which also has listings posted on Web-based job boards.

Stanley says the fact that MBS had "page after page" of listings seeking consultants for Great Plains and Solomon shows that it is extremely difficult-if not impossible-to find experienced people certified in MBS products.

MBS isn't the only vendor working hard to recruit. At the American Institute of CPAs' Tech 2005 in Las Vegas in June, Blackbaud's Willis Contey was prowling the conference's exhibit hall looking for consultants.

Accounting Becomes a Popular Major

For years, the number of accounting graduates declined, causing great concern among the profession and the leaders who need to find their next generation of staff from that talent pool.

But for this year, no degree is in more demand than accounting, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. At the end of the education process, starting salaries have increased, so that the average has reached $44,564 a year.

NACE cites demand for accountants and interest by students that skyrocketed after the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley. However, the impact of the increasing number of accounting majors will be felt throughout the industry for a couple years, stemming from the previous shortage of accountants in the pipeline.

Leslie A. Murphy, incoming chair for the AICPA, is optimistic that the up-tick in enrollment will continue. Total U.S. enrollment of college students pursuing an accounting degree was 168,000 in 2003 (the most recent year available) compared to 144,000 in 2000. The number who received Master's degrees rose to 12,665 in 2003, from 9,700 in 2000. And the number who received Bachelor's degrees rose to 37,010, from 34,995, over the same period.

"We attribute the gains to the critical role we play in the overall economy,'' says Murphy, also group managing partner at Southfield, Mich.-based Plante & Moran. "The students see the work as interesting, with growth opportunities and high regard for CPAs."

"I think that everybody is seeking the same 3 percent of the consulting market that understands accounting software and technology," says Contey, the engagement manager for professional services for the Charleston, S.C.-based manufacturer of software for nonprofits. Contey says that if he could find qualified people, he would hire 20 consultants immediately.

Stanley says his firm's cross-training approach is helping, as the firm is on track for $5 million in revenue for 2005. But even these aren't likely to support the firm's future needs. Stanley estimated that the 13-year old firm will still need to hire an additional six consultants over the next 12 months.

Tightening Up

Until a couple of years ago, accounting and consulting firms had their pick of the market. On the accounting software side, the post-Y2K bust left consultants looking at jobs that weren't remotely near their previous pay levels. But business has picked up in the last two years. That has stemmed from business spilling over as the Big Four shed work done for audit clients, and the need to comply with new regulations in general. Meanwhile, there was a decline in the number of accounting graduates, which has turned around in the last three years. So how do firms get help?

Software vendors can help their channel partners, although most don't have formal programs. Shakopee, Minn.-based Open Systems has been informally assisting its resellers, says CEO Michael Bertini, and the firm may develop a more formal program to help them hire the right people.

Sage Software is the most active in this area, having anted up $1 million last year and again this year to help VARs hire sales people. (See related story, page 44) It may also start a program for enlisting consultants.

Stanley feels that MBS could be doing more for its VARs.

"What it can do to help grow our businesses has been expressed to MBS executives many times,'' Stanley says. "And I haven't seen any initiatives yet that assist us on the staffing side."

Microsoft does not have a formal program to help resellers in recruiting or hiring. But Don Nelson, vice president of partners, says it is not fair to say that MBS does not have a program, because it spends millions of dollars on advertising. "We believe the opportunity to partner with Microsoft is the best in the industry. We invest nearly $2 billion in our partner initiative, not including R&D," Nelson says.

The Half of It

In public and private accounting, demand is also strong for CPAs and certified systems auditors.

"Individuals experienced in those areas are receiving multiple job offers if they are looking for full-time work,'' says Paul McDonald, executive director for Robert Half Management Resources.

SOX has played a strong role in the demand, impacting corporations' need to develop internal controls. "Service organizations are having to pay more, base pay and bonus, to lure the necessary resources to meet the demands their clients are placing on their own organizations," McDonald says.

Intuit, which deals with thousands of firms, is also hearing about the tight job market.

"I know that among our ProAdvisors, there is a lot of recruiting of each other," says Richard Walker, director of Professional Accounting Solutions for the Mountain View, Calif.-based company.

That recruiting may ease when the new crop of graduates begins hitting the market. In fact, AICPA chair Bob Bunting says the biggest issue now is that the number of people who want to enroll in accounting exceeds the capacity of the colleges and universities.

"We are starting to see a pick-up in the number of people sitting for the CPA Exam," Bunting told an audience at Tech 2005. He added that the number has exceeded projections for those taking the new computerized exam.

The Columbus, Ga.-based accounting firm Robinson Grimes is anxiously awaiting that flood of accounting graduates. Managing partner and former AICPA chair Scott Voynich says that, in the meantime, his firm trains prospects.

"We'll take them through the training and certification,'' Voynich says. "So we're not looking for specific knowledge but, rather, someone who can roll with whatever we throw at them." Today, the firm is seeking at least three staff accountants to handle a recent flurry of new business that boosted the firm's revenues from last year's $7.5 million.

Robinson Grimes began focusing on and emphasizing its internal work culture four years ago as a means to entice attractive candidates.

Remote access is among the incentives the firm touts when marketing itself. Staff members can work remotely, taking advantage of the firm's use of the Citrix platform. Voynich says that 20 percent of its 55 employees take advantage of this ability.

No Time to Train

However, many firms say that they don't have the time to train raw recruits for the practice areas. That includes Stanley Stuart.

"Our firm is not structured to bring in a recent college grad, train them, and bring them up to speed," says Stanley. If the firm is going to achieve its projected growth rate, it needs experienced consultants.

Burch: 100/100 Pays Dividends

The most aggressive effort to help resellers hire and develop new talent has been Sage Software's 100/100 program. Now entering its second year, the program provides a pool of $1 million to help 100 VARs hire 100 new sales people, one each.

There's no secret why the company felt the program was necessary. With business picking up, VARs are increasingly asking the software publisher for assistance in finding salespeople, consultants and programmers, says Taylor Macdonald, executive vice president of channel and sales operations.

"We reacted as soon as we heard our partners ask for assistance with finding salespeople,'' says Macdonald. "Sales were being hindered as a result of not having enough people to implement an installation."

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