Education: How Leadership & Softskills Training Programs Help Firms Retain Talent

As we continue our look at the new landscape of recruiting and retaining CPA talent into firms, we check in with Consultant/Trainor Diane Wilbur, the Program Director of the RI Society’s successful Emerging Leaders Network program, (ELN) Diane, whose Soft Skills Training Group firm, specializes in development of soft skills and leadership skill building, spoke with us about what employers need to consider to attract and retain the best talent.


Diane Wilbur

WC Editor: In more recent years, firms report that recruiting is getting more difficult or certainly more competitive to get qualified young talent into the firm. What do you view as important skills a young professional should have to get hired in the best situation, and on the other side, what approach can the firms take to do a better job enticing young talent and present their workplace as attractive? Are new graduates or young professionals looking for a certain atmosphere in your view? A certain culture in a workplace that they view as more attractive than others?

Diane: Accounting firms will continue to look for the students with a strong GPA and technical expertise, but there has been a major shift in requiring more of the "soft skills" that are critical to the roles. Most of these positions are client facing roles that require strong communication skills as well as emotional intelligence. As they progress in their careers, business development becomes a major focus. To attract new talent, firms need to understand that this generation is not shopping around for the best financial package. They are looking for companies that provide flexibility, opportunities for advancement, diversity and align with their core values. They are passionate about making a difference and are more inclusive and charitable than previous generations. Companies that incorporate these core values into their culture through programs and community involvement will be more attractive to prospects.

WC Editor: Through your experience in soft skills training, what skills are lacking more today in younger professionals that can hinder their hiring or advancement? And why is it so critical they be able to improve on those skills?

Diane: Technology has made us more efficient, but also hindered us with communication skills. I have found that this generation is more comfortable with public speaking (learning it at an earlier age and with college requirements) but prefer to interact electronically. Email provides efficiency but eliminates the human connection we would get with an impromptu "fly by" conversation. Long term success is at risk because it is strongly correlated with the ability to develop strong relationships with colleagues, clients and managers.

WC Editor: Once someone is hired and has gone through a first year or two, when should mentoring, employee training and leadership/management/soft skills development programs be offered to keep a younger employee motivated to stay with a firm?

Diane: Softskills training should be an ongoing focus for employees at all levels. New hires are typically assigned a mentor. I would recommend employees seek out mentors that they feel comfortable with, and who they view as potential sponsors. Leadership development is usually offered after the first couple of years. The participants in our ELN program have 3-10 years of experience in their field.

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