September 17, 2019

AICPA Report: Accounting Firms Just Aren’t Hiring Accounting Grads Like They Used To

The latest Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report came out this week, and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been anxiously waiting two whole years for it. I mean, I didn’t save the date or anything, but all of us around here have been eager to see how the profession has changed in the two years since the last report.

Are MAcc numbers down? Are accounting grads still shunning the CPA exam? Are accounting firms finally addressing diversity? All of those are questions we’ll answer in a more comprehensive look at the report soon, but for now we want to address an interesting hiring factoid from this year’s report.

A press release from the AICPA reveals that a shocking 31% of new hires are non-accounting graduates, crediting “rapid advances in technology skills” for the shift. The non-accounting grad figure is an increase of 11 percentage points from 2016 to 2018.

“Increased demand for technology skills is shifting the accounting firm hiring model. This is leading to more non-accounting graduates being hired, particularly in the audit function,” said Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA, AICPA president and CEO, and CEO of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. “CPAs have an unmatched reputation for trust and integrity, earned through decades of working in the public interest. However, to play this vital role in the future will require an increased focus on technology. It is incumbent upon the profession to ensure accounting graduates and newly licensed CPAs have these skills and expertise needed to support the evolution of the audit.”

Yeah, so, what about audit?

Overall CPA firms hired about 11 percent fewer accounting graduates in 2018 than they did in 2016, and nearly 30 percent fewer than in 2014. As firms continue to embrace technology and evolve their approach to the audit, they are seeking employees with data science and data analytics skills. They are largely filling those needs with non-accounting graduates, though there is anecdotal evidence from firms to suggest that some of this technology-specific hiring is occurring at the experienced hire level.

Is this the robot apocalypse we’ve been joking about not happening for years now? It may not be the Asimo-in-chinos-and-a-mint-button-up future we pictured, but it certainly sounds like traditional hires are rapidly falling out of fashion in favor of technology and the digital magicians who can harness it. Get on the boat or get left behind, I guess.

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