Business executives who are also CPAs cited the scarcity of skilled personnel as their top concern, according to a new survey by the American Institute of CPAs.

The third-quarter AICPA Economic Outlook Survey polled CEOs, CFOs, controllers and other CPAs in U.S. companies who hold executive and senior management accounting roles. The AICPA surveys the group every quarter, but for the first time, “availability of skilled personnel” was named the top challenge facing companies, up from No. 2 in the second quarter of this year. Seventy-five percent of respondents indicated they are seeing at least some increased competition in recruitment efforts, with 21 percent reporting a significant increase. At the end of 2014, the last time the AICPA asked the same survey question, only 16 percent said they were experiencing a significant increase in hiring competition.

However, the unemployment rate was 4.3 percent in July, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is set to report the August figure on Friday, which could be even lower. Economists have been predicting the U.S. economy is moving to full employment, although as more long-term unemployed and part-time workers join the labor force, jobs remain scarce in many parts of the country. Still, many employers have complained of a shortage of skilled workers in certain sectors, and immigration constraints have exacerbated the situation.

AICPA Economic Outlook Survey skills shortage

When asked about the market for candidates for their skilled positions, a majority of survey respondents said they have seen an increase in the level of competition. A majority of the poll respondents indicated have had to settle for less than the ideal candidate, one in five admitted they had lost out on top candidates, and 7 percent said their companies have had important jobs open for extended periods of time.

“One out of five business executives say their company has lost out on top job candidates because of increased competition, and a majority say they’re having trouble finding the right candidate to begin with,” said AICPA managing director Arleen R. Thomas in a statement. “For some companies, the scarcity of skilled workers could have an impact on productivity and growth over time.”

Despite staffing challenges, half of the CPA business executives polled indicated their companies had the right number of employees. Twenty-four percent said they planned to hire immediately, the same proportion as in the second-quarter poll, while 15 percent indicated they had too few employees but were hesitant to hire. Business executives who indicated their companies had too many employees declined from 8 percent to 7 percent on a quarterly basis.

Sixty-four percent of business executives indicated they were optimistic about the 12-month prospects for the U.S. economy, the same proportion as in the second-quarter poll. Revenue and profit expectations returned to levels from the beginning of 2017 after slipping in the second quarter. Business executives now anticipate revenue growth of 4.3 percent over the next 12 months, up from 3.9 percent. Profits are anticipated to increase 3.5 percent, up from 3.2 percent last quarter.

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Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn, editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com, has been covering business and technology for a variety of publications since 1985.