In this edition of What-Counts, we examine the talent pipeline issue that is faced across the profession. Public accounting firms are confronting an unprecedented climate of competition with other industries to recruit trained talent and working harder to retain employees once they get them in the door. That has led to firms upping their recruitment operations, strengthening college internships and other training programs for potential hires, and examining new strategies for retaining experienced talent to avoid the cost and disruption of constant staff turnover.
The pipeline of talent may be an issue for the industry at large, but we discovered newly graduated accountancy majors continue to find their way to the offices of BlumShapiro in Cranston these days. We checked in with Greg Cabral, Partner, on how the firm is faring in a changing industry. Greg says for BlumShapiro, it’s less an issue of finding the talent, but more an issue of reconstructing what the job entails for their newest hires.
“Our pipeline for young recruits has been strong over the past few years we are happy to say,” Greg explains. “But what’s happening is due to the increasing use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotic systems being integrated into our work, we have less need for entry level jobs and a growing need for newly hired staff to take on more complex tasks.”
The AI expansion means the approach to staff training may be getting a reboot.“As a firm, we are thinking of revamping our whole training system overall,” says Greg. “The use automation and computers to do more and more of our data entry work is only going to increase, so new hires have to be better trained for the next level of work right from the start and we’re reviewing all that.”
BlumShapiro offers a winter internship program to enable college juniors and seniors the chance to plug into true accounting work during the tax preparation season. Greg says the program is a critical component of the pipeline for them. “We bring them on, treat them like a new staff person and they are given a pretty comprehensive exposure into our tax work,” Greg says. He estimates that 90% of their new hires come from the internship program, and they will hire younger than a senior when the opportunity is there. “If we see a very promising college junior, whose skills are very good, we would not hesitate to make a job offer for that young person to start 12-18 months later, right after they graduate.”
But what about keeping talented new staff once they come on board, spend a few years and are properly trained? Retention of talent, Greg emphasizes, is becoming the more critical battle.“We find the bigger challenge is not right out of college but a few years in,” explains Greg. “Millennials today are more likely to want to jump to other industries, a company that’s 'sexier' than public accounting, we do see that,” he says. The real recruiting competition, he finds, “is at the more experienced level. Regardless of a firm being national, regional or local, that experienced professional is in high demand and it’s competitive.”
But the demand for more sophisticated skills can also emerge in an area that has nothing to do with accounting. The younger generation of professionals often are lacking a key talent required for any job. “The lack of strong soft skills is a problem, we see it,” Greg explains. “It’s a generational thing when young staff don’t want to pick up a phone and call someone, they grew up with texting, and this lack of face to face communication. It’s something we have to work on.”
The recognition of the need for stronger communication skills among young professionals seems to indicate the competition from automation may have its limits. “Robots are not completely taking over everyone’s accounting job anytime soon!” laughs Greg. “We need our staffs to have the full skill set from communication to the higher levels of tax data analysis and other tasks. The robots won’t do it all.”
It’s good to know for the folks at BlumShapiro, the people pipeline may be a challenge, but it remains their highest priority!