The unfortunate reality in our industry is that fewer people are enrolling in accounting programs in higher education across the country. Prior to the pandemic, enrollment numbers steadily decreased between 2015 and 2019. Meanwhile, the AICPA has predicted that 75 percent of CPAs will retire in the next 10-15 years. Like many industries, we’re struggling to fill positions in the public accounting world.
The good news is that public accounting continues to be a very lucrative, rewarding career because the need for CPAs has never been higher. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects demand for accountants and auditors to increase about 7 percent through 2030, thanks in large part to globalization and increasingly complex regulatory requirements.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in New York City or Des Moines, Iowa. The ROI from an accounting degree is very high if you’re willing to work hard, regardless of where you decide to live and work. In today’s age of remote working, you have more flexibility than ever to work where and how you want.
Making a Difference
I understand that people entering the workforce today want more than numbers from their careers. They want to work for companies that share their values. They want to work for companies that are interested in more than profits. They want to make a difference in the lives of real people.
I talk all the time about the fact that people are the number one priority at Prager Metis – the people who work here and the people we serve. Stepping back and looking at the public accounting profession as a whole, think about the difference an accountant can make for individuals, families, businesses, and nonprofits.
The most successful CPAs didn’t achieve their success by helping their clients secure a big return at tax time. They built long-term relationships. They became trusted confidantes. In many cases, they became part of the family. Even in an age of virtual everything, public accounting is still very much a people profession.
The stronger the relationship, the bigger difference an accountant can make in someone’s life.
Why Numbers Are Down and What We Can Do About It
One study found that incoming students are turned off by the 150-credit hour requirement. That is indeed a roadblock and I’ve personally had conversations with AICPA leadership about it. There are ways to prepare people for a career in public accounting without such cumbersome requirements, and I’ll continue to push for change.
That said, there are many industries and careers with intense requirements in formal education. We as an industry need to do a better job conveying the benefits and fulfillment of a career in public accounting.
Also, more students are gravitating towards tech-related majors, which doesn’t just affect accounting. Some people are leaving accounting because of opportunities in the technology field.
The reality of being a CPA, especially when you’re getting started, is that it’s not a 9-to-5 job. You have to work hard, especially at certain times of year. However, the path to success is much straighter, stabler, and predictable for an accountant than someone who might go to a tech startup, work 80 hours a week, and have the product they develop become obsolete in two years if it ever gets off the ground.
My point is that public accounting gives you the best of all worlds. You build relationships. There has never been a time when accounting was not needed, and that need will never go away. You can make a difference in people’s lives and your own life. As Prager Metis has shown, accounting firms can lead in innovation.
Again, we as an industry need to do a better job telling this story. I can assure you that Prager Metis is shouting it from the rooftops, whether in a traditional office building or our virtual workspace in the Metaverse.
Accounting has given me lifelong relationships. Some of my best friends in life have been co-workers and clients. I live a very rewarding, fulfilling life, and much of that is tied to my decision to pursue a career in public accounting and work my way up the ladder.
It’s not the job that’s keeping young people from enrolling in accounting programs. It’s more about outdated stereotypes and a lack of communication about the rewards of public accounting.
These are fixable problems. We as an industry need to be more active and proactive about telling the story of the tremendous opportunities that exist in public accounting when you focus on building relationships and helping people.