CAQ documentary on young auditors debuting on PBS and online

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The Center for Audit Quality will be premiering a new documentary Thursday following a group of aspiring young accounting students as they take a 21-day RV trip across the country and learn about the auditing and accounting profession from some of its practitioners.

The documentary is part of PBS’s “Roadtrip Nation” series and features a group of young people from diverse backgrounds, showing their family relationships in some emotional scenes, and then as they bond with each other, first online and then during their RV trip. The documentary, sponsored by the CAQ, can be viewed at RoadtripNation.com and will be shown on PBS stations starting Friday. The trailer can be viewed here, and it includes a shot of an issue of Accounting Today with a cover story on inclusion in the profession. It's made possible by the CAQ’s Discover Audit Initiative,

“Roadtrip Nation is a career exploration organization,” said Liz Barentzen, vice president of operations and talent initiatives at the CAQ. “They do documentaries on different careers and they also have an online portal where people in different professions can submit their own career biographies. The founders of Roadtrip Nation wanted to give more options to young people to think about what different careers could be.”

The group includes Sobia, a first-generation college graduate, who originally had planned to become a doctor, but switched to accounting after deciding a career in medicine wasn’t right for her. Twenty-one-year old Da’Rell also didn’t originally envision pursuing a career in auditing, but he knew he wanted a career that would enable him to take care of his family and make an impact on his community and the world at large. Leilani left her family in Guam to attend college with the ambition of pursuing a career that could one day help her open a business to support them.

In the hour-long episode, entitled “Making It Balance,” they travel from Austin to locations including New Orleans, Birmingham, Philadelphia, New York, Hartford and Boston, and along the way they interview several experienced auditors and business leaders in music, sports and other fields. The interviewees include Cathy Engelbert, the first woman to lead a Big Four accounting firm in the U.S. and the current commissioner of the WNBA; Cynthia Boon, the internal audit manager at LiveNation; Karmen Ward, a managing director at KPMG; Michael Horsey, chairman and CEO of Horsey, Buckner & Heffler; and Bryan Ford, a former CPA who used the business skills he learned as an auditor to open his own baking company. They also get exposed to a forensic accountant, Dawn Brolin, CEO of Powerful Accounting in Hartford, Connecticut, who tells them about fraud detection and shows them her bulletproof vest labeled Accounting Cop.

“Roadtrip Nation approached EY back in 2018 with the opportunity to do a documentary, and. EY thought this is not just an EY documentary or story,” said Barentzen. “This is about the profession. So EY brought it to CAQ and we kind of ran with it from there. Our entire governing board aligned on this idea of sponsoring a documentary around a career in audit.”

They hope to expose more young people to the possibilities of an auditing career. “If you think about audit, it might not be top of mind for high school and college students around what a career in audit is out there or possible or why it’s so great,” said Barentzen. “Also, from a talent perspective, we know that many users of the Roadtrip Nation portal are diverse students. And that’s really been a focus of the profession, in having more of a diverse workforce in audit. So that’s why we originally decided to get involved. We decided there would be a lot of exposure for a career in audit with this documentary, and we also wanted to make sure that we were highlighting and correcting some misperceptions about what a career in audit actually is. It has changed a lot, and will continue to change with technological advancement. We really believe that this is a career that young people would be interested in, especially those who are interested in a purposeful career that offers a lot of learning and development.”

CAQ executive director Julie Bell Lindsay discussed the documentary with Accounting Today back in April (see story). “It really presents the profession in a more accurate, real-time and on-the-ground light,” she said. “It’s something that we’re really excited about. It’s hard for talent coming into the profession. There are so many areas that just seem so much more exciting, and auditing is exciting. Not many professions give you the opportunity to see as many industries and as many different types of companies as the auditing profession does.”

The CAQ didn’t choose the participants in the documentary, but it did ask that they come from diverse backgrounds.

“Basically, with PBS guidelines, as a sponsor for the documentary, we could not have control over the content of the documentary, or who the road trippers were,” said Barentzen. “Roadtrip Nation chose the road trippers, and the road trippers chose who they would interview. That’s part of their process in learning. So the road trippers come onboard and they’re tasked with doing all the research, reaching out, and setting up the interviews along their road trip. That’s part of the practice and experience that they get. But we really did advocate that we wanted diverse road trippers. Our main mission that we’re working to advance is to bring more diversity and to see more underrepresented talent in this profession. We really strongly advocated that the road trippers be people of color or first-generation Americans or first generation of college students going into the profession. That was our push, but we didn’t choose them ourselves.”

The CAQ also wanted to show how careers in auditing could be diverse in themselves. “We basically coalesced our governing board firms, and we provided a concept paper for them,” said Barentzen. “We helped Roadtrip Nation and steered them in the points that we really felt were interesting about a career in audit and those points that we wanted to hit. For example, to be an auditor, you can be involved in any industry, from music to sports, even owning your own business. Becoming an auditor is studying business, so that is the perfect platform if anybody is interested in being an entrepreneur. We also wanted to make sure that we highlighted that a career in audit is a career in technology. More and more auditors are leveraging artificial intelligence. That’s really changing the nature and makeup of what a career in audit looks like. It used to be perhaps more mundane, rote work that was being done. With artificial intelligence, the focus now is much more on ensuring that there’s collaboration, there’s communication, there’s teamwork. All of those soft skills are really important.”

The documentary was filmed last August and completed before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, but Barentzen sees how it can highlight possibilities for those who are concerned about how to earn a living despite the economic downturn.

“Something that’s come up more recently is with COVID-19,” said Barentzen. “If you think about when there’s a downturn in the economy, this is a stable profession, and it’s something that I know the road trippers have thought a lot about as well more recently, and are seeing that value. There aren’t that many careers today that offer not only stability, but also career progression and the amount of learning and development that comes with time.”

The producers of the documentary series see its relevance in the midst of the pandemic as well. “For years, Roadtrip Nation has used storytelling to help all types of learners shed the noise and find their roads in life,” said Roadtrip Nation president Mike Marriner in a statement. “Due to the current pandemic, people are looking for career security now more than ever, and we would never want people to sacrifice their individual desires or interests just because they think it’s the safer option. We were happy to partner with the CAQ to show working in a generally stable field like auditing means nothing of the sort. The auditors and accountants we interviewed are all vibrant, inspiring people who’ve found fulfillment in their careers. This is a career path promising both security and the ability to find your unique niche in the workforce.”

The CAQ has created discussion guides and toolkits that firms can use when they show the documentary internally as part of their internship programs. It also plans to make the documentary available to education programs. “Really our main purpose was making sure we’re bringing more brand awareness to people who may not have known that accounting and auditing is a career,” said Barentzen.

Roadtrip Nation has a career-planning portal in partnership with the CollegeBoard that is used by students to search through various career options, and the CAQ hopes to expose more young people to the auditing profession that way with stories from auditors about their experiences.

“We know that younger generations really need to feel connected to what they’re doing, and it’s really important to them,” said Barentzen. “It’s not just about money anymore, although audit can be a very lucrative and stable career. But with the evolution happening right now and what we see is the future, that perhaps beyond auditing financial statements and providing assurance, all of those things will help highlight this as a purposeful career.”

The one-hour documentary will air nationally on PBS stations around the country beginning June 5, and online starting June 4. Learn more about “Making it Balance” at rtn.is/making-it-balance, or by following @RoadtripNation, @TheCAQ, and @DiscoverAudit on Twitter.

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