Where Have All the Accountants Gone? Fixing the Accounting Employment Crisis

By March 14, 2023Accounting
accountant at desk with spreadsheets and laptop

There’s a crisis going on right now in the accounting profession, one that’s probably gone unnoticed by many—until they post a help wanted ad. Then, it quickly becomes apparent that the applicant pool has shrunk. And, among those who are applying, the requisite skills for some specialized jobs, such as nonprofit accounting and auditing, are lacking.

What’s going on?

According to the CPA Journal, fewer people are majoring in accounting in college, and fewer still are entering the profession once they become part of the workforce. For every accountant who retires, there are fewer and fewer to take their place. This problem hasn’t gone unnoticed. The SEC issued a warning that the lack of CPAs may create financial reporting problems in the future.

Yes, Baby Boomers are retiring, and fewer people are entering the profession, but there are also myriad other factors at play. The pandemic exacerbated many of the profession’s challenges, encouraging some to take early retirement and others to cut back their working hours to spend more time with family. Others simply decided they’d had enough of the long hours, stress, and lengthy commutes to work, and chose to step back from their careers either permanently or temporarily.

Many professions are undergoing similar challenges. What can we do to encourage more young people to embrace accounting as a profession and to ensure that there are successors in place for the much-needed CPAs in our companies?

Improve Perception and Increase Awareness

Let’s face it: the accounting profession has a branding issue. It’s long been associated with gray suited “bean counters” who tap calculator keys all day and manage taxation issues. Few students are aware of the multifaceted and challenging roles that accountants fill, or the many career opportunities in the field. Outreach to schools, mentoring young people, and offering internships in an accounting office are all ways to bring young people in direct contact with accounting professionals so they begin to see that it’s not all number crunching and more about challenging projects, problem solving, and business management.

Additionally, it’s important to let young people know that accounting is a “steady job” —something that not only pays well but is always in demand. In a world in which many jobs have been phased out over the years or lost to automation, accountants will always be in demand no matter how much automation is put into place in the office. Automation can only offset some of the tasks faced by accountants. It cannot replace the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that a good CPA brings to the role.

Steps to Offset the Accounting Labor Shortage

Encouraging young people to enter the accounting profession is the long-term solution. Short term, you may be faced with vacancies that remain unfilled or longer periods when you’re shorthanded. To compensate for those times when there aren’t enough professionals to fill the many roles needed, here are a few ways to offset the accounting labor shortage:

  1. Automate: Okay, so we said automation can’t replace a CPA. It certainly can’t, but it can take many time-consuming tasks off the CPA’s plate. Using a good accounting software platform that incorporates automation into the workflow can save time and enable an accountant to get more done each day.
  2. Focus on critical tasks: When you’re shorthanded, everything seems critical. But what tasks can someone else tackle? An assistant may be able to help with accounts payable or receivable, but the CPA may need to focus on audits, compliance, budgeting, or other critical tasks. Focusing on the tasks only you—the senior level CPA or accountant—can handle and delegating other tasks helps save time and ensures that your much-needed skills are put to good use.
  3. Spotlight high-risk areas: Focusing on mission critical tasks and on high-risk areas ensures that the senior accountant’s time is spent on items of primary importance to the business. Identify risky areas and focus attention on them to ensure they are taken care of properly.

Solving the accounting labor shortage is not something a single individual can do, and it won’t be solved in a day. However, as a profession, there is much that can be done, and our collective focus on the problem and potential solutions should begin now.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact us for more information.