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Where have all the accountants gone?

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner , Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

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  • Dec 30, 2022
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There is a dearth of qualified candidates for job openings in just about every industry right now. This has been a big story for well over a year, but that doesn’t make it any less true or pertinent. The problem, however, is more acute in some sectors than in others. Perhaps no employee is harder to find right now than the accountant. Auditors, actuaries, bookkeepers are all in short supply, and there are signs showing that they’ll stay that way. Utilities need to be proactive if they hope to recruit and hold on to indispensable clerks. 

According to this article in Fox Business, more than 300,000 accountants have left the field or retired in the past two years. That’s a whopping 17% decline. The article specifies that the departures comprise much more than retiring baby boomers: 

“The exodus is driven by deeper workplace shifts than baby-boomer retirements. Young professionals in the 25- to 34-year-old range and midcareer professionals between the ages of 45 and 54 also departed in high numbers starting in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Recruiters who have been luring experienced accountants into new roles say they are often moving into jobs in finance and technology.

Companies have responded by bumping salaries and hiring more temps. A representative from KPMG LLP, one of the country’s biggest accounting companies, is quoted in the article saying most of the firm’s employees have received three pay bumps in the past year and that entry level workers in 2023 will earn 5-15% more than in 2022. Yet the shortage continues. 

People these days just don’t want to do accounting. College students don’t want to major in it, those who major in it often look for other jobs after graduation, and as I mentioned earlier, many accountants are transitioning to other roles. 

As you could probably imagine, the work-reward ratio doesn’t tilt in accountants’ favor in the new economy. The major is hard and you need about 30 extra college credits to become accredited, about a whole extra year of school. The job can be grueling at times, requiring 70-80 hour weeks during tax season. And even with recent pay bumps, compensation lags far behind comparable tech and finance positions. 

The continued shortage of accounts has serious implications for utilities, and really any sort of business. During this time of fluctuating energy prices, the renewable transition, related policy changes and stimulus money, a good accounting team can help a power company make informed, data-driven financial decisions. In a similar vein,  a skilled accounting department is crucial for keeping the utility in compliance during a time of changing regulations in the industry. 

So how can utilities keep their accountants and hire new ones? It’s easier said than done, but some of the factors driving interest in the profession down should be remedied as much as possible. 70-80 hour work weeks need to be abolished, or compensated with extra vacation or overtime pay. What can a utility offer someone with accounting skills that tech, for example, can’t? I’m tempted to say stability, but the hard truth of the matter is that recent reports show that tech workers laid off by the likes of Facebook and Meta quickly found new employment. Still, getting laid off isn't fun. 

I’m interested to hear what people have to say on this forum though. Have you noticed the accountant squeeze at your companies? Any ideas on how to fix the problem?


 

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