Accountants Lack Some Skills

There's an article over at the Wall Street Journal today about CFOs who can't find the talent they need. Yes, it's been Groundhog's Day in the world of talent-starved CFOs for, oh, I don't know, at least the last 5-6 years and this is the same headline.  

One problem is that there doesn't seem to be enough bodies to go around, "The U.S. unemployment rate for accountants and auditors was 2.9% in the first quarter. That compares with an overall jobless rate of 5.4% in April," the story says.

And the other problem is CFOs don't like what recruits bring to the table:

Judi Pulig would like to hire two junior accountants this year. The videoconferencing company where she is finance chief is offering them yearly salaries of about $55,000 apiece.

But, she said, most of the 118 people who have applied for the openings at York Telecom Corp., in Eatontown, N.J., don’t have what it takes.
Alright, but what does that mean?
Leadership, forecasting, strategic thinking, cost management and financial reporting are the skills where the gaps between demand and supply are the widest, according to a survey of 173 finance and human resources hiring managers.

According to the Institute of Management Accountants, a Montvale, N.J., accreditation group and the American Productivity & Quality Center, a Houston-based nonprofit organization, 81% of those polled said planning, budgeting and forecasting skills were “quite a bit” or “extremely” necessary for their organization to succeed.

 
Yet the same respondents said only 30% of entry-level finance professionals possess those skills. Though 77% agreed that leadership ability was a necessity, only 14% said their employees had it.
If so many employers — including the guy who says, “A college grad telling me they know how to do debits and credits and financial statements doesn’t really help me,” — are not finding accountants with the right skills, then it's pretty easy to conclude that either: a) the accounting curriculum is to blame or b) the people coming out of public accounting firms aren't learning anything. 
 
The IMA has a whole site dedicated to this — competencycrisis.org — and it says, "management accountants (professionals such as controllers, treasurers, directors of finance, and CFOs) must be armed with critical problem solving, analytical thinking, communication, and other skills that go beyond technical tax and audit capabilities." In other words, the non-public accounting stuff.
 
To a large degree, accounting programs are designed to prepare students for the CPA exam. Certificates in "Corporate Control and Analysis" like Penn State's that prepare students for corporate accounting (and the CMA exam) are a rare bird. I'm sure the IMA would love to see more programs designed to prepare students for their credential but they have to compete with the AICPA's barrage of propaganda and the formidable Big 4 recruiting machine.
 
Most schools don't have the resources necessary to offer an expanded curriculum and give their accounting students a real choice between tax/audit and corporate accounting. And Big 4 firms won't push schools to offer a more diverse curriculum because a) It doesn't serve their professional services SUPERPOWER plans and b) they don't want to lose their stranglehold on the talent pipeline.  
 
For the CFOs — even the ones who have Big 4 experience — it might not register that the cause of this talent shortage is due to the influence wielded by large accounting firms in the universities.  Some companies probably don't care; they'll welcome public accounting refugees into their world and mold them how they like. Others, like CFO guy who doesn't care about debits and credits, don't want to mold anyone, there's too much work to do.
 
But it's foolish to expect accounting graduates to have skills for corporate accounting. They don't have them because they don't learn them in school and they don't learn them in public accounting. And until BIG CPA loosens its grip on the academic community, that won't change.
 

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