The accounting profession stands at a pivotal juncture, grappling with increasing challenges. There’s a significant workforce exodus and stark decrease in student enrollment in accounting programs. While the retirement of Baby Boomers may represent a portion of the workforce exodus, a broader workplace shift is evident, with young and mid-career professionals exiting the field. According to The Wall Street Journal, more than 300,000 accountants and auditors, constituting approximately 17% of the workforce, left their roles between 2019 and 2021.

Despite the exodus, there’s a growing demand for accountants. As businesses grow increasingly complex, the need for skilled accountants has surged. However, the shortage of qualified professionals as a result of high turnover and the sharp decrease in the future talent pipeline due to lowered student enrollment rates have exacerbated this demand-supply imbalance.

Diversifying the accounting profession is integral to reshaping recruitment and retention efforts. Through initiatives such as Deloitte’s Making Accounting Diverse and Equitable (MADE) program and the Accounting Careers Awareness Program (ACAP) of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), organizations not only expand the talent pool but also enrich the profession with varied perspectives. A diverse workforce reflects the globalized business landscape, fostering innovation and problem solving. Beyond a moral imperative, embracing diversity strategically addresses industry challenges, ensuring resilience and appeal to a broader range of aspiring accountants.

Rethinking the Recruitment Model

There’s a need for the accounting profession to adapt to changing workforce expectations and priorities. For example, one major deterrent to a career in the accounting profession may be the grueling work hours, often exceeding 70 to 80 hours per week, combined with the monotony of certain tasks. Such demands have discouraged individuals from pursuing the profession, leading to declining enrollment in accounting programs at colleges. Furthermore, the stark drop in enrollment in accounting programs has sent shockwaves throughout the profession. For example, The Wall Street Journal article mentioned above noted that small to midsize accounting firms need to turn to offshore accounting talent to stay competitive enough to serve their client base during tax season. This trend can also be noted for larger firms such as KPMG, which has long hired international accountants to support client work to accommodate clients’ needs.

Considering the state of the profession, changing workforce expectations and priorities won’t be enough. There’s also a desperate need to rethink our recruitment model, which has traditionally focused on recruiting primarily from undergraduate four-year universities. This outdated approach assumes that students are choosing the profession at the same historical rate and ignores the bottleneck in the pipeline that’s occurring at the middle and high school levels. Today, many accounting professionals have chosen this profession by way of their exposure to this field from someone they know.

For example, this column’s coauthors entered the profession based on personal experiences. Kenya Matsushita grew up with parents who were dedicated teachers and who fostered a deep appreciation for education within their household. However, the world of corporate jobs and accounting was very foreign to Matsushita. During college, his career journey took an unexpected turn when an accounting professor asked him to become an accounting tutor. “This experience not only deepened my understanding of accounting but also fueled a passion for teaching and supporting others in their academic journey and, ultimately, led to my current career where I work with a number of large multinational organizations supporting their accounting and finance organizations,” Matsushita says.

Bernice Jenkins grew up with parents who also pushed for higher education. She considered nursing, engineering, or mathematics as career options, but had never heard of an accountant. However, a high school friend took an accounting course that piqued Jenkins’s interest, and she took the course during her junior year and loved it. She wanted to take a second course during senior year, but it wasn’t offered. “I was so disappointed that I declared it my major during my freshman year of college. I reasoned that I would change my major if I didn’t like it. Needless to say, I’m still here 20-plus years later. This profession has exceeded my expectations in such a way that it has fueled my passion to recruit and support others in the profession,” Jenkins said.

As the above descriptions attest, we realize that our introduction to the accounting profession may be more of an exception than the norm. In fact, the retirement of Baby Boomers coupled with the decline in college accounting majors will decrease exposure to such an exacerbate level that there will be a need to “reintroduce” this profession to the next generation in a way that should match, or even surpass, the efforts of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) recruitment.

Diversity’s Role

Several organizations have made strides to take on this challenge by addressing the lack of diversity in the profession. For example, Deloitte launched the MADE program in 2021 to assist in the creation of greater racial and ethnic diversity within the profession. With a $75 million commitment to this initiative, the program has hosted a tailored workshop at numerous high schools throughout the United States to bring more awareness to the profession. Additionally, NABA’s ACAP hosts high school students at several universities across the U.S. to increase awareness and exposure to the profession. While these efforts may assist with pipeline diversity, they only scratch the surface of closing the generational gap. Therefore, the question looms: How many talented students might we overlook simply because they lack exposure to the profession?

One opportunity that’s largely ignored is recruiting students with the talent for this profession within local community colleges. While organizations such as NABA and Deloitte make commendable efforts, the impact of a local community footprint can potentially be more effective to bridge the gap in exposure and opportunity. Thus, the imperative lies in a collective commitment—both from organizations and individuals in local communities—to actively collaborate and support the local education system.

We shudder to imagine not having the accounting elective in high school or not having the professor in college to help steer us toward a career in accounting. Although we were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, we wonder how many of our peers who chose other professions were missed by the accounting industry.

While organizations like the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and NABA are making strides to address the shortage, we would like to encourage our fellow management accountants to join the efforts. We invite you to look for opportunities to support your local education system and local organizations. Look for ways to engage with middle school, high school, and even local community colleges. By doing so, we can provide students with more meaningful exposure to the accounting profession and help avoid future situations where potential talent goes unnoticed or untapped.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and don’t necessarily represent the opinion of Deloitte & Touche LLP.

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