During the time when my parents were pouring money into the widening black hole that was my college education, my roommate once queried me as to the shortest amount of time I had spent on a summer job before either quitting or being shown the door.

His answer, as I recall, was exactly one day on a loading dock, when, after porting several hundred boxes into trailer trucks and dangerously flirting with a hernia and a slipped disc, he - if you'll pardon the pun - packed it in.

Mine was a three-day indenture to an Italian-born landscaper, whose idea of leisure time was working 12 hours a day Monday through Saturday and another 10 on Sunday. I complained to my father that serving time in a penitentiary would have been preferable to digging trenches for sprinkler pipes or bagging mulch under this Roman masochist.

I cannot recall exactly what sparked this campus discussion on brief job tenures, but it got me to thinking about job longevity and the people at companies throughout the country who ensure that it remains, well, long.

I spent 12 years in my job previous to this one, and when I tendered my resignation to come to Accounting Today, the human resources director merely shrugged and said in a resigned tone, "Nobody gets the gold watch anymore."

Hmmm - not exactly the mantra I'd want my HR people to go around chanting.

The truth is that I left because I had gone as high as I was going to go, despite the top editorial post remaining vacant for three years. For reasons I'm still at a loss to explain, management felt there was no cachet to "going inside" to hire the next editor-in-chief, but rather they attached themselves to the absurd notion that the outside market was laden with top-level potential. (As a postscript, when they finally hired someone "from the outside," he lasted all of 11 months before filing for unemployment.)

Now as we wade into 2005, it's probably as good a time as any for firms to do a top-down assessment of their recruitment and retention policies.

Several issues ago, we published an article that trumpeted a double-digit hike in the number of accounting degrees being awarded by the nation's colleges - an 11 percent jump, to be exact, for the most recent year for which statistics are available. Seems that the runoff of potential CPAs to the dot-coms has been relegated to the same time capsule as eight-track tapes and New Coke.

In fact, the number of undergraduate degrees climbed 6 percent to 37,000, while graduate sheepskins climbed an eye-opening 30 percent, to nearly 13,000. For the first time in several years, those who oversee academic accounting programs are optimistic about swelling enrollments and a noticeable reduction in the number of empty seats.

But that's only half the battle. What happens once they sign on? Are they mentored and encouraged to advance? When opportunities within a firm open up, is everyone who is qualified to hold that post urged to apply?

Now, I realize that it's tax time and everyone is otherwise engaged, but think of how much more difficult next year's filing season would be sans several key people.

Because I can tell you from experience that there is nothing more disheartening than when a good employee saunters into your office, a formal-looking note in hand, and asks, "Have you got a minute?"

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