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Recruiting Accounting industry attempts to boost career profile

Accountants may be on the road to extinction.

College and graduate students in the profession are dwindling faster than dot-com millionaires.

With fewer accountants in the work force, the business community, investors and the economy all take a hit. Without the expertise of an accounting professional, many companies are doomed to fail.

In the last decade, we have seen enthusiastic entrepreneurs who , for one reason or another , opted not to enlist the services of an accounting professional when developing a business plan and model for success. If their company survived, it surely was not as profitable long term as it might have otherwise been.

According to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, enrollment at college and graduate accounting programs for the 1999 academic year was down 22 percent from just three years earlier.

More current statistics are now being analyzed, but industry leaders speculate that the picture will look pretty much the same. Not only are fewer students enrolling in accounting programs, registration for the CPA exam has also dropped dramatically.

– Declining Enrollment

There are four main reasons for the decline in enrollment in accounting programs. First, there are more options for business students than there were 10 years ago. There are so many new fields that they can explore. The pie is being cut in more pieces than ever before.

Second, let’s face it, accountants have an image problem. Lonely guy in a visor and pocket protector, tapping away at a calculator in a room lit by a bare light bulb. Sound familiar? In the word association game, the words “bean counter” comes up most often in response to “accountant.”

Reason number three: The Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC recently proposed a “conflict of interest” rule, which prohibits accounting managers from owning stock in companies for whom they provide audit services. Add to that a proposed ban on providing both audit and consulting services to the same client, and you’ve got a real deterrent for going into the field.

This ban would actually limit the effectiveness of using a CPA, rather than enhancing the delivered service with more perspective. An accountant who provides both auditing and consulting is far more valuable than one who focuses on just one area because he or she has greater insight into a business and its practices.

Finally, undergraduate accounting programs are now five years instead of four. The so-called 150-hour rule was originally introduced to give accounting students an extra year to diversify their curriculum. Unfortunately, many colleges simply added to the accounting course load.

According to Joseph Bittner, the education and curriculum chairman at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, colleges that implement the 150-hour rule as it was originally intended have actually seen an increase in students who go on to get their master’s degrees.

– Signs of Strain In The Industry

The scarcity in accountants in the job market has caused economic strain for the industry. The lack of competition among accounting classmates in an employees’ market has spiked recruiting and retention costs at firms across the country.

The CPA institute is taking steps to boost the numbers, though. In what might be dubbed a “Save the Accountants” campaign, the professional organization has a two-tier plan for increasing enrollment.

First, the group is reaching out to educators with an Information Pack, spiffily named the I-Pack. This helps teachers introduce basic accounting concepts such as break-even analysis and 401(k) plans using future value of annuities. The I-Pack aims to give students a broader picture of what accountants do.

Along a similar vein, the CPA institute has retained a national advertising and public relations firm that will launch a five-year campaign targeted toward young people. Among the first of the tools the CPA institute introduced was a video featuring five accountants and their exciting careers.

Not surprisingly, the CPA institute selected people and jobs that would appeal to the 20 and younger crowd , the comptroller for the New York Jets, an FBI agent, an Internet consultant, the vice president of production at NewLine Cinema, and a vibrant young woman from Seattle who owns a consulting firm.

The accounting enrollment dip creates challenges for the industry, but it also gives us the opportunity for self-examination and growth.

Those of us who enjoy careers in accounting know what an exciting and rewarding career it can be. We help businesses succeed. We help individuals retain and increase their wealth. As a result, the overall economy benefits.

Now it is time for us to more effectively communicate this to young people through outreach and economic incentives such as accounting scholarships for incoming college students.

Accounting is a field that will never become extinct. It is simply too important to our economic landscape. We have helped others succeed through careful planning and marketing. Now, our profession must do the same for itself.

Saiz is the managing partner for Calderon Jaham & Osborn Certified Public Accountants and Consultants.


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