Between the increase in employee retirements, the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a number of other factors, the accounting workforce seems to be shrinking. Meanwhile, accountants are quitting jobs in record numbers, and some are leaving the profession entirely. This reduced talent pool leaves companies in fierce competition for skilled professionals as well as graduates who choose to pursue accounting as a career.
This contraction in supply might be more manageable if accompanied by a contraction in demand. Instead, factors like lingering supply chain disruptions and inflation have generated a surge of complex work for accounting and finance functions. An understaffed company may lack the necessary expertise to handle these responsibilities, which could lead to lost opportunities and stalled growth. Furthermore, a heavy workload distributed among a pared-down team will cause performance and morale to drop—and prompt the number of experienced accountants eyeing the exit door to rise even further.
While there’s little a company can do on its own to bring the levels of accounting graduates back to where they were in the past, here are some ways to think differently about attracting and keeping talent.
1. Focus on employee-centric programs.
Employees and job seekers are attracted to a company culture that aligns with their personal values. In response, organizations need to do their best to accommodate the full scope of workers’ needs, including health and wellness. Efforts to promote health and well-being have been shown to increase productivity and help minimize healthcare costs. They can also do something else: Give your company an edge when it comes to hiring the best employees before the competition does.
Consider creating—and showcasing to job candidates—programs focusing on employee mental health, stress management, access to telemedicine, and keeping personal finances healthy. Offering the ability to work when and where applicants prefer can also contribute to overall wellness. Employers who can offer flexible work options, whether it’s fully remote, hybrid, or alternative hours, will have an advantage recruiting and retaining talent.
2. Recruiting and retention go hand in hand.
Talent acquisition and talent retention are two sides of the same coin. If you hire six brilliant accounting graduates tomorrow and none of them stay for more than six months, you’ll be no closer to overcoming the talent crisis than when you started.
Set new hires up for success from the onset with a thoughtful and comprehensive onboarding process. Build as much flexibility as you can into employee work schedules to promote a healthy work-life balance. Use resources like the Robert Half Salary Guide to benchmark your compensation against competitors. Foster a culture of collaboration and communication where employees are encouraged to share their ideas and participate in decision-making processes. Lastly, remember that small gestures can have a big impact. A timely thank-you note for a job well done can raise an employee’s morale.
3. Unlock the benefits of apprenticeship programs.
If it’s taking you longer than you’d like to hire, consider apprenticeships while you continue your search. It’s another example of thinking differently about building your team. You can bring in someone relatively inexperienced on a contract basis and team them up with a more tenured employee who can train and mentor the individual.
Apprenticeships are one way to explore talent pools that recruiters and managers sometimes overlook when being overly cautious in regard to a candidate’s qualifications. For example, if test scores are your primary talent metric, you may be passing over members of underrepresented groups who lack the educational opportunities of other applicants. Similarly, placing too much value on recent experience may cause you to overlook people returning to the workforce, such as parents who took a career break, military veterans transitioning to civilian life, and individuals who took time off to care for family members during the pandemic. Apprenticeships can give you more confidence to explore other sources of talent since you’ll know that candidates who are missing critical skills can be trained on the job.
Partnering with an experienced, registered apprenticeship provider can make the experience much more seamless. Once you’ve selected apprentices from a pool of qualified candidates, your partner will coach and guide these workers and support you through their on-the-job learning and professional development. If, at the end of the apprenticeship, the candidate has performed well and is a good fit with the rest of your team, you can choose to convert them to permanent status. Along the way, apprentices can be trained to specialize in specific accounting disciplines, such as auditing or financial planning, thus giving them the skills they need to pursue advanced roles.
Apprenticeship programs can also be used to enhance the social aspect of your environmental, social, and governance strategy. If you bring in two apprentices and split the responsibilities of an open position, they’d progress more quickly since they’d be doing just half the job that one person would normally do. They will know they aren’t permanent hires, but they’ll leave your organization with new skills courtesy of you and the company. This kind of program can also boost your employer brand in the eyes of job candidates who are drawn to a company culture that aligns with their social responsibility values.
4. Invest in upskilling and reskilling.
Even if your recruitment efforts are reasonably successful, building your future workforce will require upskilling (enhancing skills) and reskilling (teaching entirely new skills) your current team. By investing in initiatives like in-house training, mentoring, and job shadowing, you can equip your employees to handle the changing demands of the accounting industry.
Highlighting your organization’s opportunities for growth and development can help you attract strong candidates who are experienced but know they need to keep learning new skills if they are to remain valuable to employers. Demonstrating your ability to train professionals on your cutting-edge technology and tools is a draw for potential hires looking for a company at the forefront of industry trends. Many accounting graduates are drawn to sectors like technology, finance, and consulting, which offer attractive salaries and career paths and may be seen as more innovative and dynamic than other industries. Showcasing a forward-thinking and progressive culture helps counter an impression some candidates may hold that your company is behind the curve.
The talent crisis in the accounting profession is real but not insurmountable. By taking a creative approach to recruiting and retention, you can build an environment where employees feel valued, supported, and engaged—and one that talented accountants are eager to join and stay with for the long haul.