Note: The following was authored by MACPA Chair Herb Geary, CPA, CGMA, partner with UHY LLP. It appears in the Winter 2023 edition of The Statement.
When someone asks you why you chose accounting as a career, what do you say?
It’s an important question. If you’re speaking with a student who’s weighing their options, it could be a life-changing answer.
It’s an answer that could, in fact, help alter the future of our profession.
Ours isn’t the only profession feeling the pain of a constricting talent pipeline, of course, but that’s cold comfort at best. The pain is made worse by the fact that the shortage is driven by a number of factors, many of which — like declining birth rates, immigration policies, the rising costs of higher education, and a drop in the number of students seeking that education — are beyond our control.
Other factors, though, are things that we might — in fact, should — be able to influence.
The MACPA Foundation, for instance, is laser focused on building a strong, diverse talent pipeline by providing training, granting scholarships, supporting DEI initiatives, and forging partnerships with organizations that will help us introduce our profession to the next generation of CPAs.
The MACPA is gathering information for potential comments on the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s proposed amendments to the Uniform Accountancy Act’s Model Rules. The proposal could ease the path into the profession by increasing the amount of time CPA candidates have to pass all parts of the CPA exam from 18 to 24 months.
In addition, the MACPA and its Foundation are focusing on a number of other areas where we can have an immediate impact, including:
- Collecting applications for our next round of student scholarships.
- Holding Student Leadership Academies for both lower and upperclassmen and community college students.
- Conducting visits to regional universities, community colleges, and high schools.
- Partnering with Junior Achievement chapters in Central Maryland, Greater Washington, and on the Eastern Shore.
- Producing a film aimed at sharing the varied and valuable opportunities that a career in accounting provides.
The AICPA also is joining the fight to strengthen our pipeline.
AICPA officials recently announced an “eight-point plan” of initiatives designed to address the root causes of our profession’s talent issues. Topping the list is an innovative education and experience program that could bridge the gap between 120 and 150 hours of education. Under this plan, students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and immediately join a firm after graduation would do so as first-year associates. During that first year, they would be given time to take online courses and study — with appropriate competency assessments — as a way of earning their required 30 additional hours of education.
A pilot for this education and experience program will be announced this fall, and a broader release could take place as early as next year.
These types of initiatives are hugely important, but the work shouldn’t stop there. Sooner or later, this has to become a grassroots effort. That’s where you and I come in.
While the talent issue seems gargantuan, each CPA has a role to play, particularly when it comes to perception-based factors like the appeal of the profession, the number of hours we work, the types of work we do, and the diversity (or lack thereof) of career options.
That brings me back to my original question: When someone asks you why you chose accounting as a career, what do you say?
Too many of us don’t have an answer. We’ve long forgotten what first excited us about this incredible profession — the game-changing difference a trusted CPA can make for a business or client, or in the financial lives of Americans everywhere. We are the backbone of our nation’s financial future.
Too frequently, though, that purpose, that passion, that “Why?” has gotten lost. We need to find it, and share it — over and over again. We need to change the narrative that surrounds our profession. Each of us must shoulder some of the responsibility of exciting a new generation of CPAs.
Here’s a sterling example of how that can happen.
The MACPA’s CEO, Rebekah Brown, recently shared a conversation she had with an intern at a local firm who explained why he decided to go into accounting. He said he loves solving complex problems for his clients so that his clients, in turn, can solve complex problems for their communities. He looks at his firm’s clients and sees, for example, a not-for-profit organization that received a grant because of the work he did on their behalf. He sees that client take that grant and use it to improve the lives of others. He sees people leading better lives because of the work he does.
How’s that for an answer? If students heard more of those types of stories, our pipeline would fill in a hurry.
That’s my challenge for you: Rediscover your passion for this profession. Turn it into a story. Then contact the MACPA to find out how you can share that story in a meaningful way. We’ll help you make that difference.
Too many of us keep hoping somebody else will solve our talent issues.
The answer, in fact, might lie within each of us.