Typically, accounting industry job supply and demand vary with proximity to tax season.

This year, it looks as though the outlook may be improving overall. Two staffing firms believe that proactive hiring prior to next tax season, and a renewal of efforts at worker retention, are advisable for accounting firms seeking to avoid gaps in workflow next busy season.

A recent survey conducted by Harris International for the Mergis Group found that nearly one-third of accounting workers are confident in the strength of the economy, even though more than half believe there are fewer jobs available now. However, Mergis Group president Brendan Courtney observed that more accounting and finance workers are revealing the likelihood of making a job transition. And while this quarter’s Worker Confidence Index slipped slightly over the last quarter, the year-over-year trend is actually up.

In light of this, he recommends that companies that gave up retention efforts over the past several years start paying close attention to them again as the economy improves and more workers begin looking for potential opportunities.

A key element in hiring issues this year has been staff in the two-to-four year range, according to Omri Avdi, practice director at Accounting Principals’ Parker & Lynch division.

“A lot of staff in that category were laid off in the last couple of years,” he noted. “So now many firms are top heavy, with a lot of senior management and partners, and first and second year classes. What is missing is the middle gap of knowledge—firms are experiencing shortages in the senior associate and manager levels.”

Many firms experienced shortages in staffing during the past tax season, Avdi indicated. “Most CPA firms as well as corporate tax departments weren’t very forward thinking in developing a proactive hiring plan,” he said. “It’s not a mystery, because firms are at their busiest at the start of the year.”

But this year was much more intense, in part due to the economic downturn that began several years ago, said Avdi. “A lot of firms slashed their staff, and this is the first year where the economy is starting to come back. We’re starting to see increased revenue generation, and business is coming back to the level it was before.”

Consequently, many firms found themselves short-staffed at the beginning of tax season, according to Avdi. “There was a substantial increase in requests to us for tax-related positions,” he said. “Requests for tax related contract roles were up over 300 percent from last year.”

“Most did not reach out to us until February or March, and at that time trying to fit or identify a tax professional for a client at the eleventh hour is a huge undertaking. Lots of good people are already working at that point,” he said. “It’s similar to when airlines oversell a flight. Firms are so focused on maximizing their client base that they’re not being ensuring that appropriate resources are available.”

Therefore, Avdi urges CPA firms and corporate tax departments to proactively hire during the next six to twelve months in advance of tax season.

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