People. Human capital. Talent. Call it what you are comfortable with. The profession needs to attract and retain high-quality people. People who not only have a good command of technical skills, but also have a commitment to mastery and continuous development of the vital skills needed for success today and the foreseeable future.
During the American Institute of CPAs’ Fall Meeting of Council in October 2015, president and CEO Barry Melancon noted that talent is one of the three “macro trends” that are impacting the profession (in addition to regulation and technology). Most decision-makers accept and understand this situation.
But here’s the thing: The old ways of attracting and retaining people have most likely ceased to be effective. “Out-of-the-box thinking is needed. Traditional approaches will, by themselves, no longer suffice to ensure companies find and keep the people they need,” the Economist Intelligence Unit wrote — back in 2008.
But change is hard.
What is going on in the marketplace for talent? Gen X is approaching “mid-career change.” Millennials (age 18-34) are now the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, according to Pew Research Center.
And a few words about the Millennial generation: Millennials are viewed by some (or maybe many) as a generation likely to change jobs or even careers frequently. Psychology Today reports that Millennials have unrealistic expectations related to their own career development. Doesn’t matter. If you are in the business of leveraging people — human capital — you need to deal with the reality of the environment. Back in 2006, The Journal of Organizational Behavior talked about the “boundary-less career,” where there is more movement among employers, occupations and/or geography.
And as employers integrate Millennials into the workplace, increasingly in roles of middle and upper management, Generation Z is on the way, with yet another set of outlooks on their careers.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that young people are not only leaving firms, but they are leaving the profession. Changing careers.
Well, if young CPAs are changing careers, we might conclude that the young professionals in other careers are leaving those careers as well. That is simply a logical conclusion. The questions then become: Where are they going? Would they consider a new career as a CPA? Is the CPA profession equipped to identify and recruit these “career changers?” There is advice for career changers all over the Internet. Can firm and corporate accounting cultures accommodate career changers?
CareerBuilder talks about “7 Great Careers If You’re Over 40.” Accounting is on the list. Are we collectively taking advantage of that? Some career changers will become “non-traditional” students, who make up 73 percent of all students enrolled in undergraduate programs, while 39 percent of all undergrads are 25 years or older. Research by Destiny Solutions reveals that, “For many non-traditional students, holding a professional certification will be a stepping stone to new positions.” What are we doing about that?
So — career changers are going to end up somewhere in the workforce. It might as well be the CPA profession. A lot of these people have got the perspective and talent to be significant contributors in the profession. If we want to leverage this trend, the profession (which includes firms, corporate accounting departments, colleges and universities, and accounting associations and societies that serve the profession) needs to reassess recruitment. Are we willing to accept the need to aggressively recruit talent in places that we have never looked before? The places to start are the “career changer” marketplace and the non-traditional student marketplace.
Gary Bolinger, CAE, is president and chief executive officer of the Indiana CPA Society.
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