The US Accounting Shortage

For the third year in a row*, “Accounting and Finance” made the top 10 “hardest jobs to fill” in ManpowerGroup’s annual Talent Shortage Survey. What makes hiring these professionals so difficult? First and foremost is that there are not enough qualified candidates to fill open positions. We see this problem frequently, especially among companies in Silicon Valley that are growing quickly. It can be hard to find qualified staff, and even when they are found and hired and trained, it can be hard to retain them.


At the same time, studies show that the job market for accounting professionals is very strong. An American Institute of Certified Public Accountants study found that CPA firms hired a record high 40,350 new accounting graduates in 2012. The previous high recorded in the survey was 36,112 in 2007. Among the 1,000-plus US employers participating in the ManpowerGroup survey, 48% report they’re having difficulty filling open positions because candidates lack technical competencies/hard skills, 33% say candidates lack workplace competencies/soft skills, and 32% state there’s a lack of or no available candidates.

Jeff Thomson, president and CEO of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), commenting on the findings in Forbes Magazine, says part of the problem is that accounting students aren’t always taught business skills that will help them succeed. “The reality,” he says, “is that the majority of accountants work in business and are required to handle a broad range of responsibilities beyond taxes, including financial planning, analysis, forecasting, internal controls and decision support. They are expected to be trusted advisors who can interpret the numbers to direct corporate strategy.”

There is a shortage of young people choosing to study accounting in college, while after college, there are not enough graduates choosing a career in accounting, or succeeding when they join the workforce. At Global Upside, we are helping to address this problem. We support the Financial Executives International of Silicon Valley’s scholarship program, which provides financial support to young people choosing to study accounting but whose family situations make it difficult to stay in college. Many young people have benefited from this program. The situation is analogous to that in the technology industry: at a time of high employment nationwide, there are well-paying jobs with excellent career prospects that cannot be filled. More needs to be done to make young people aware of the value of a career in accounting. Accounting and finance in the corporate environment involves a diverse mix of skills and capabilities: it’s as much about teamwork, business judgment, and understanding an ever-changing legal and regulatory environment as it is about number-crunching. At Global Upside, it’s also about client service.

But the problem is not solely with young people. According to the experts, there is also a mismatch of the skills students learn in school and the skills CFOs are looking for. Thomson calls for changes in accounting curriculums. This surfaces another shortage—of accounting professors—which has caused the AICPA to launch the Accounting Doctoral Scholars program. Sponsored by the Big Four accounting firms and hundreds of smaller firms, the program provides scholarships for accountants to enter academia.

For companies struggling to find accounting and finance staff, outsourcing is a great option. Global Upside’s business has grown rapidly in the last few years partly because of this. Our ability to leverage a worldwide talent pool helps us ensure that only the highest-quality professionals work on our clients’ business.

For young people trying to make decisions in the midst of a discouraging job market and declines in many traditional industries, we would urge them to consider a career in accounting. Financial processes are increasingly electronic, but the decision making process is human. There’s no substitute for human judgment, and there’s no greater satisfaction than contributing to the management of a successful company.

*2017 Update: For the sixth year in a row, “Accounting and Finance” made the top 10 “hardest jobs to fill” in ManpowerGroup’s annual Talent Shortage Survey