The war on talent continues to be the number one issue facing the accounting profession. That’s according to the latest CPA Firm Top Issues Survey conducted by the AICPA’s Private Companies Practice Section. The results of the survey, revealed at the recent AICPA Engage Conference, showed “finding qualified staff” as the number one issue of concern among PCPS firms of all sizes. The only exception was sole practitioners, for whom “finding qualified staff” ranked as their No. 3 concern, after “keeping up with changes and complexity of tax laws” and “seasonality / workload compression.”  

Further, the need to obtain and retain qualified staff shows no prospect of abating. Asked what issues are expected to have the greatest impact on their practice over the next five years, PCPS firms (other than sole practitioners) ranked “staffing” as the No. 1 issue, with “technology” being No. 2. For sole practitioners, staffing was the No. 4 issue.

We spoke with MACPA Board Chair Lisa Cines to break down the issues involved in the war on talent and discuss what the profession is doing at the state and national level to help meet the need for qualified talent in a rapidly changing environment. Cines, who is actively involved in various initiatives at the MACPA and the AICPA, provided the following reflections on this issue as she nears the end of her term as 2016-17 MACPA chair.

Defining the war on talent
The “war on talent” has been at the forefront of discussions in the accounting profession since it rose to the No. 1 issue in the AICPA’s top issues survey in 2015.

How does Cines define the issue? “The war on talent is where too many are seeking those with experience of the same skillset.” This will become more and more of a problem for the profession, she says, “particularly as the tasks that have historically been deemed lower level ‘training grounds’ continue to be accomplished through automation.”

Priming the pipeline for a healthy supply
Looking at the supply of accounting graduates, the glass is half empty … and half full. Cines says the number of individuals choosing accounting curriculum in college has increased. “That being said,” she adds, “the young professionals are often turned off by aspects of the profession that keep them from staying on track to pass the CPA exam.” Such things include “everything from being a part of a big entry-level class and after a busy season walking away from the profession and the exam, to not having the interest in a master’s in accounting and not being exposed to all of the very interesting and valuable ways to achieve the 150 hours.”

Efforts to keep young professionals engaged and make their voices heard have been getting more attention as millennials take more responsibility with the retirement of baby boomers. These include the MACPA’s Leadership Academy and the AICPA’s Leadership Academy, which the MACPA had a major role in developing. Stay tuned for a soon-to-be-released report from the MACPA and BLI’s 2016 Leadership Academy class.

Other programs offered by the MACPA include a mentoring program, which recently completed a successful pilot, and the Women to Watch Awards program. Additionally, Cines notes, MACPA leadership is closely involved in a task force made up of State Board of Public Accountancy members, professors, experienced and young professionals. The task force is looking at why there is a relatively low passing rate for the CPA exam in Maryland, including rules surrounding taking the exam.

Meeting the demand for qualified talent in a rapidly changing world
The need for evolution was a central theme in the remarks of AICPA CEO Barry Melancon and Chair Kimberly Ellison-Taylor at AICPA Engage. This evolution is taking place at the macro level (e.g., adoption of diversity and work-life balance initiatives by the profession) as well as the micro level (e.g., individual skill enhancement: technical and soft skills).

“The skills that are needed have become much more vast and are not all grounded in technical knowledge,” says Ciines. The university systems keep business students somewhat siloed, she notes, “rather than the cross pollination of skills that could better prepare the graduate.”

Cines notes that the newest generations entering the workforce have grown up with a plethora of customized learning and experiences. This dynamic  will require a major shift in the approach of employers from how they recruit, onboard and organize actual work experiences.

The need to ramp up training in a world of constant disruption requires nothing short of evolutionary change. Melancon and Ellison-Taylor noted as much at AICPA Engage last week while announcing initiatives like the  new “Shark Tank” formed to fund and support to early-stage companies developing innovative technologies for the accounting profession.  

The MACPA has played a leading role in offering broad-based training in technology and anticipating change to avoid disruption, including the recently announced IBM / MACPA / BLI program and the Anticipatory Organization program. BLI also offers a host of soft skills / leadership development training, designed to help CPAs and finance professionals develop and maintain the skills being demanded by audit, business and industry, government and not-for-profits.

Learn more about the MACPA’s initiatives by attending the 2017 Town Hall / Annual Meeting, in-person or online, on June 26, with highlights of the past year from Cines and MACPA CEO Tom Hood, and a look to the future.

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