AICPA finds public accounting hiring model shifts
The AICPA recently released the 2019 Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report. The report shows that the accounting profession requires new skill sets because of the rapid advancement of emerging technology, especially in data science and analytics. This is changing who we do business with and how we do it. As a result, non-accounting graduates make up about 31% of all new graduate hires in public accounting — an increase of 11 percentage points from 2016 to 2018.
Accounting graduates and newly licensed CPAs must have the skills and expertise to support the growing technology needs. One of the ways the AICPA seeks to address this trend is through the CPA Evolution project, in partnership with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. This project strives to ensure that CPAs can support an accounting profession that plays a critical role in protecting the public interest.
Accounting enrollments for bachelor’s degrees remain high and are the second-highest since the inception of our Trends report. While enrollments declined 4% from 2016, they remained higher than 2014 levels.
This year, there was a continued shift in bachelor’s versus master’s enrollments. Master’s and Ph.D. enrollments continue to decline, with many opting to enter or remain in the workforce or to pursue other avenues for advanced education. Economic conditions and an expansion of the alternatives available to potential graduate accounting students may be behind this trend.
After the 2017 launch of the exam led to a significantly higher number of new CPA Exam candidates in 2016, the number in 2018 was the lowest in 10 years.
The report’s more telling projections about the profession come from the demand side in public accounting.
While new hires assigned to audit-related services increased 4%, hiring of new accounting graduates declined about 30% over the last two Trends reports. The marketplace continues to demand different competencies and, while firms still hire accounting graduates, they seek other skill sets. This is especially true as it relates to technological needs to expand services — often met with non-accounting graduates.
The report found that racial and ethnic diversity increased, with the highest percentage of non-white enrollees to date. Enrollment by gender is nearly even at both the bachelor’s and master’s levels.
The decline in new exam registrants and the increase in non-accounting graduate hiring present opportunities. The AICPA is working with key stakeholders on a number of profession-wide initiatives that attract, inspire and engage the next generation of CPAs.
Along with the CPA Evolution project, some initiatives include:
- A CPA Exam practice analysis focused on the impact of technology and the critical skills for newly licensed CPAs — an exposure draft and invitation-to-comment will be published in late December.
- The Accounting Accreditation Practitioner Engagement Program, which places CPA practitioners on AACSB accounting accreditation teams and committees.
- The Accounting Doctoral Scholars Program provides funding for CPAs to obtain their doctorates and teach.
- The Accounting Program for Building the Profession trains high school educators to teach a college-level accounting class.
The Association is also working with organizations to increase the likelihood that racial and ethnic minority students consider accounting early in their career decision-making process. AICPA scholarships and programs such as the Accounting Scholars Leadership Workshop help ensure accounting students have a meaningful and successful experience as they work to earn their CPA license.
On a parallel effort, the AICPA is working with universities to deepen the connection between practice and academia to better incorporate the skills of the future into current curricula and bring more CPAs into the classroom.
While this Trends report focuses on public accounting’s hiring of new graduates, those seeking accounting careers are hired into a multitude of positions out of college and have even more opportunities as they gain experience in the profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment in the broader accounting and auditing field is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2026.
We believe that for CPAs to continue to serve the marketplace, they must incorporate new and different skill sets and the profession must take steps to cultivate these rapidly changing skills in accounting graduates and newly licensed CPAs. We are committed to achieving this by investing in several initiatives. If you want to get involved by speaking to high school or college students about joining the accounting profession, visit AICPA.org/presentertoolkit to learn how to get started.
Yvonne Hinson, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D., Academic-in-Residence, Senior Director, Academic & Student Engagement, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
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