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The CPA’s First-Round Pick: Attracting and Retaining the Next Generation of Accountants

Written by Jennifer Warawa

It’s a jobseeker’s market, and firms today are working overtime to attract new, top-notch professionals—while also keeping their current workforce engaged. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities for accountants will increase 10 percent by 2026.  Amidst all these new opportunities, the global professional services industry, including accounting, ranked among the highest in terms of staff turnover in 2017. That means, accounting firms will lose employees quicker than they can secure new hires—setting the stage for a talent crisis within the profession.

As fear of a talent shortage looms, employing the right people with the right mix of skills and providing a culture that allows them to thrive will be the key to the success of any accounting firm. Here are three key steps that accounting firms can take to attract and retain the industry’s top talent:

Recognize and adapt to new technologies and industry trends

To recruit and foster millennial accountants, firms need to acknowledge, understand, and fully embrace both the advancements in accounting technology and services. Newly-minted CPAs are digital natives, and expect technology to be deeply woven into their professional experiences. In fact, a study conducted by Dell and Intel found more than 80 percent of millennials say workplace tech would be a deciding factor when considering a new job. For accountants, firms can use automation to free up practitioners’ time to focus less on managing invoices, and more on meaningful client relations.

It’s time to say goodbye to the accountants as desk-bound number crunchers. According to a study by Sage, 83 percent of accountants report that their clients expect more strategic counsel than they did five years ago. To attract top-tier talent, it’s crucial to establish your firm as one that understands and supports the accountant’s expanding, more consultative role. Openly discuss with current and prospective employees about how the accounting profession is evolving at a larger scale, how it affects their work, and how employees can adapt.

Define team goals and provide the tools to achieve them

It’s not just about the technology nowadays. A 2018 workforce study by McKinsey found the demand for social and emotional skills such as leadership and communication will rise by 24 percent in the coming years. Accountants will need a wide range of personal communication and technical skills to succeed. Keep in mind how these changes are influencing the ways in which accountants approach advisory services.

A challenge many accountancy firms come across is that middle-level employees often get disillusioned as they progress. Couple that with the fact that accountants need guidance on their evolving skill sets, and firms are tasked with actively helping their teams navigate their career trajectories. To effectively support accounting talent, firms need to provide a clear career development track—such as the route to partnership. Managers can retain valuable team members by providing a clear and achievable route to this milestone—and carrying out regular reviews to monitor their progress along the way.

Once you clearly outline these goals, see to it that your employees have access to the tools needed to get there. Firms can invest in further training to help employees deepen their technical prowess to utilize new technologies like artificial intelligence and bots. Additionally, as consultative services increase in popularity, accountants will need to hone their relationship-building skills. Develop a mentor program to further guide junior employees in client relations techniques. Ultimately, if organizations don’t set their employees up for success, they risk losing them to firms that do.

Listen to, learn from, and motivate your employees

Gone are the days where employees are commonly hitting their ten year anniversaries at a single company. A recent study by Gallup found that nearly one-third of U.S. workers have changed jobs in the past three years, and nine in 10 of those who have changed jobs have changed companies. How can HR staff combat this turnover? Communicate with employees to learn how to engage them. Despite the hype, kombucha on tap and a pool table in the back room will not retain top performers. Making employees feel valued goes beyond these trendy office perks—it’s an ethos that must be woven into all layers of your firm.

Many companies are missing the mark— 47 percent of respondents to a Sage workforce survey said they had never been asked by their employer how they can improve their work experience. Meanwhile, 66 percent of respondents to the same survey believe being valued and recognized is the most important aspect of employment. To show employees they’re valued, firms can establish a monthly discussion on business initiatives and suggestions for improvement—creating a productive dialogue between employees and the leadership team. Additionally, firms can provide access to new resources and opportunities through subsidized technical training, conferences, and learning projects. Taking care to foster new experiences for employees demonstrates that leaders are invested in employees’ individual career growth.

By providing individualized training and growth opportunities, focusing on the needs of employees and looking to recruit a new range of technical and communications skills, accounting firms can put themselves in the best position to attract, retain and develop the right talent, now and in the years to come.

About the author

Jennifer Warawa

Jennifer Warawa was born and raised in Kelowna, BC, Canada and owned a business there for over 12 years, providing consulting, accounting, and bookkeeping and marketing services to small businesses. Jennifer currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia and works for Sage as Global Vice President of Product Marketing for the accountant market segment and Sage Live. Jennifer has a passion for entrepreneurs, small business, public speaking, writing and helping others achieve their highest potential.


  • Wow. 80% of millennials say that workforce tech will have an impact on their job decisions. That’s an impressive number! Teams that don’t adopt modern tech are going to have a really hard time retaining their millennial workforce over the next decade as those workers increasingly move up into senior and management roles. Great article!

    • I really enjoy the Cloud Accounting podcast. I’m 44, making a profession shift and reinventing myself for a career in the accounting and business analysis fields. I haven’t quite started working in the industry yet, but I have listened to all of yours and David Leary’s episodes and hope to find work in the field. Thank you guys for all the industry’s inside insights. (The good and the bad.)

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