Over the years, we’ve written countless articles mocking the paranoia constantly brewing in the accounting profession over [insert threat here]. Usually it’s robots coming to take your jobs or “something something millennials,” and although we’re happy to rip on Alex Jones fanbase-level fear over threats real, imagined, and/or exaggerated, there is often a smidge of merit to these fears. Robots will probably take your job some day, but that’s OK because you’ll have a new job as a robot handler.
For all our cynicism, there’s one doomsaying danger to the profession we can acknowledge: the talent shortage. And I’m not talking about accounting failing to seduce enough halfway conscious young men and women into accounting as a major, I mean the soon-to-be critical shortage of accounting professors and partners. I guess you can add the accounting profession to the already lengthy list of things millennials have ruined.
The other day, Accounting Today did an interesting piece on the value of the CPA. We’ve done the topic to death, but as the profession is already careening toward total disaster if it can’t find enough bodies to fill all the chairs, it’s always an important subject to cover. The AT article was centered around a recent Surgent CPA Review webcast entitled Is the CPA License Losing Its Luster?, which tapped a bunch of Olds to complain about how everyone just got the CPA back in the day and didn’t think about it, whereas kids these days can just Google “what does an accountant do” and call it a day. I’m not kidding, one of their panelists said that.
Mark Mayberry, strategic initiatives director for the Assurance Office of Tomorrow at Top 10 Firm BDO USA, agreed: “With the introduction of the 150-hour requirement a few years ago, people are now studying for five years and perhaps there isn’t enough incentive for people [to do that]. When I took the exam, it was a right of passage … but now with the Internet, they can research and read about what public accountants do. And unless they’re going into public accounting and auditing, maybe there isn’t enough incentive to really pursue the CPA [license] anymore. It used to be the thing to get, and I don’t think it is anymore.”
Yeah, uh, we can blame the internet for a lot of things but I’m not sure it’s fair to pin this one on it. In all the head-scratching over why the next generation isn’t rushing to get the CPA exam over with like generations of accountants before them, it seems no one is asking themselves if the profession itself has lost its luster. Rather, the old “work your ass off for a decade and maybe you’ll make partner one day” model, which to be fair hasn’t worked for a long time or we wouldn’t be getting constant articles about talent shortages and difficulty in recruiting “top talent.” Spoiler: “top talent” has better shit to do than grind away for you for a decade and a half in the hopes of making partner just because that’s what the generation before them did. Those darn kids these days actually want just a little more out of their career, and I’m not talking about ping-pong tables and jeans Fridays.
Chuck Kovach, national director of learning at Top 100 Firm CohnReznick, echoed this claim: “The gap. we think, is growing between young people coming out of school and the traditional value proposition of accounting firms, meaning the long-term view of what it means to build an accounting career,” he said. “We feel we’re getting less and less traction on the [mentality of] ‘work hard for 12 years and you may become a partner and your career will then be so much better.’ I think that raises a lot of questions for our younger people … to the extent that the exam is a long-term process and what it leads to, We just think may be some of the reasons that some people aren’t motivated to sit for that exam.”
Ya think, Chuck? Hate to break it to you but “dedicate a year and a half of your life to this shitty, life-draining exam just so you can slave away for a public accounting firm for 12 years” is a really bad recruiting tactic. The funniest part is the Olds are baffled as to why “millennials” didn’t fall for it. Sounds to me like what the profession needs is a PR team to shine up this old turd and get those young bodies in the chairs.
There will always be people to whom the partner model appeals, and good for them. But unless we’re getting iPartner AIs to fill the gap by the time Gen Z grows up and starts dominating the ranks, the profession is in for a real shock. You think it’s bad now? Just wait until an entire generation nourished on memes about how much life in public sucks is the one left from which to pluck potential partners.