What kind of year would it be in the profession without staffing worries? As firms look to ramp up for the coming season, they face the same old people shortage — but for new, additional reasons.
“Every tax practice is having staffing challenges,” said Larry Pon, a CPA in Redwood City, California. “Even if they are able to hire someone, they’re running into issues of work ethic. ‘Quiet quitting’ does not work in a tax practice, especially during tax season. Also, I’m hearing many complaints about lack of competence. “
“I had one staff member flake on me during the March/April season and his replacement proved to be much less skilled than what I expected,” said Robert Seltzer, a CPA with Seltzer Business Management in Los Angeles. “Finding skilled staff with tax experience is very challenging.”
“With the shortage of workers, we are being very selective on the types of clients we accept,” said Scott Kadrlik, a CPA and managing partner at Meuwissen, Flygare, Kadrlik & Associates, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. “We’re looking to work with nice people who appreciate our services and make work an enjoyable experience for everyone in the firm.”
The biggest challenge? “Competing with larger firms with larger payroll budgets. So even if we offer flexible hours, ability to work remotely and other benefits, we’re having a difficult time,” said Manasa Nadig, an Enrolled Agent and owner at MN Tax and Business Services and a partner at Harris Nadig in Canton, Michigan.
The long-term, long-documented shortage of accountants and tax preparers is a confluence of retiring accountants, over-confident presumptions about technology, overly specialized accounting education, and a perception of the profession as at best dull and at worst prone to financial scandals .
“We’re seeing articles every day about the shortage of workers and are wondering where they all went and why they have left public accounting,” Kadrlik said. “Complex tax laws and demands of the job have driven many away, including the ones who were close to retirement and decided to hang it up. There will be a real shortage of tax preparers this winter and the cost of tax preparation will increase dramatically. “
Talent pool concerns have emerged as the most pressing issue for all but the smallest firms, according to research by the American Institute of CPAs. According to its 2022 Trends report, enrollment rates for bachelor’s and master’s degrees fell 2.8% and 8.4%, respectively, in the 2019-20 academic year. The Deloitte Center for Controllership has added that 83% of public companies struggled to attract accounting talent.
“We’re seeing a decrease in accounting majors when it comes to college enrollment, and many professionals are opting for in-house roles over public accounting due to a reputation of long hours and lack of work-life integration in the profession,” said Nicola McGarry, senior director of talent acquisition at Top 25 Firm Armanino.
Zoom rules with candidates now, it seems: The latest figures from employment consultancy Robert Half suggest that just over a quarter of professionals looking for a job in finance and accounting are considering fully in-office roles (54% said they are required in the office full-time).
“Maybe because of COVID or technology in general, I find that most new-hire candidates want remote work — which is fine, [but] our office model is personal, face-to-face handholding,” said Kerry Freeman, an EA with Freeman Income Tax Service, in Anthem, Arizona.
Freeman added that his firm has resources with local community college systems to reach accounting candidates, “and the younger ones do not seem interested in the face-to-face but would rather do remote work. I believe that they’re not understanding that this is a career that requires face-to-face interaction,” he added.
Rick Grimaldi, author of “Flex: A Leader’s Guide to Staying Nimble and Mastering Transformative Change in the American Workplace,” recently cited a few pointers for bosses who want workers to return to the office:
- Spell out why people have to return — if it increases productivity, say that. If face-to-face is key to your success, make that clear.
- Find out why they don’t want to work in an office. Child care or elderly care? Security? The commute? Talk to them one-on-one to find out — it may be a concern you can solve.
- Make a case for mentoring. Learning from a leader — in fact, building the strongest workplace relationships — is usually easier and more effective in person.
- Use flextime, whether part-time in the office or with staggered start and stop hours.
“We emphasize our investment in training and career development, creating work flexibility that integrates with life, empowering people to chart their career course, living our values through philanthropy and listening to what people are saying is important to them in the workplace,” Armanino’s McGarry said.
“There are pros and cons to remote work,” Pon said. “For newer staff, so much learning occurs in the hallways of the office. Remote work is great for experienced staff, since they want to get their work done without interruptions.”
“With new tax laws, crypto, FBAR, investment and the new reporting documents, this is fast becoming too much for the taxpayer,” Freeman added. “I make no apologies that I believe that the personal touch will keep our practice from becoming just a commodity.”