The accounting profession is at an inflection point. Fewer students are graduating with accounting degrees and many experienced leaders in the profession are reaching retirement age. No matter what size firm you look at, there’s always too much work and not enough people. Regional firms face additional challenges with hiring early-career professionals and delivering the accounting training they need to more effectively serve clients. Declining numbers of accounting graduates have resulted in intense competition across firms, especially as large firms extend their recruiting reach and remote work opportunities allow for fewer geographic barriers.
The changing expectations of recent graduates have also impacted recruiting efforts. Many of today’s new accountants aren’t interested in committing to regular overtime in their twenties and thirties, even with the goal of partnership and all that goes along with it. Interviews with recent graduates suggest that the next generation entering the workforce is looking for more client contact earlier in their careers and more control over the types of projects they will work on.
We believe that regional firms have advantages that can be very attractive to today’s accounting graduates in how accounting training and skills development is promoted and delivered. Many of these firms have the flexibility and insights necessary to capitalize on this shift if they consider these three strategies.
1) Rethink Traditional Roles and Career Paths
Smaller firms can offer positions that give employees much more impact and influence on the firm in the early stages of their careers. Firms hiring hundreds of new graduates require structured roles that work for large groups. Unlike the traditional model at larger firms, a regional firm can customize an onboarding and accounting training process for a new hire. As new employees start to distinguish themselves in particular areas, a smaller firm can work to identify competencies and tailor professional development in a way that keeps employees engaged and excited about their career growth. Firms can also create unique roles that combine expertise and interest areas.
A great example of this type of innovative thinking comes from Phil Mills, a Senior Manager at Aprio, LLP.
“The primary reason I am still in the profession today is due to my firm’s support of creating a specific role that combines my need for flexible hours to help maintain a work-life balance, and my interests of auditing and education. Ever since joining Aronson in 2019, and with the recent merger of Aronson and Aprio in 2023, the firm has continued to create customized roles that allow me to increase my emphasis on training while still performing attestation engagements to help maintain relevance and relatability.”
2) Define the Value Proposition for Employees
Firms that assume financial rewards are the primary motivator for employees will struggle to retain talent. In a competitive talent market, like we are experiencing now, there is always another firm that can offer just a little bit more. Compensation is important, but employees want to feel engaged, proud, and invested in what their firm is doing—they want to feel like they have at least a little bit of control and responsibility in the work they are contributing to. In a competitive market for new recruits, a smaller firm’s ability to create and build a better culture for its employees can be a true advantage.
A demonstrated commitment to growth and learning can be an important differentiator for college students thinking in terms of how they will continue to learn in the workplace. Firms that can show potential hires that they are serious about helping them pursue clients and projects that spark their interests will have an advantage in the talent marketplace. Access to training that makes them better advisors to those clients is a great way to show that support. A varied learning curriculum that offers a wide range of technical and non-technical development opportunities positions firms as committed to employee growth.
3) Involve Firm Leadership in Recruiting and Retention
It’s important for the firm’s leaders to be active and visible in recruiting and retention efforts. In many ways, this inflection point in the profession can be a hard concept for senior leadership to grasp. Many of them came up through the system that demanded significant overtime in the early part of their careers and some have been slow to understand how that model is making the profession a less attractive career choice for the next generation. In order to drive the kind of systemic change that can make a regional firm more attractive to recruits, leadership must be vocal proponents of how their firm’s model has evolved as they discuss the value proposition with potential new hires.
The engagement of firm leaders in the recruiting process puts weight behind key messages and helps to create distinction from other firms in the talent marketplace.
In today’s competitive market for top accounting talent, regional firms need to understand how to play to their strengths in attracting the best candidates. These three strategies in elevating the quality and benefits of accounting training can be a true advantage to growth-oriented firms.