Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Accountex conference in Las Vegas. In the wake of the event I’ve come to some conclusions regarding how the field of accounting is changing, and especially in regard to how new CPAs are being thrust into the workforce. We all know that the amount of educational effort accounting students put forth is intense. They’re driven to earning their CPA, but when the time comes for them to interview for their first job it seems that their knowledge of current accounting programs is noticeably lacking.
That’s not to say that these newly minted CPAs haven’t learned what they need to know about the field, but rather that too many are not familiar with what’s new in terms of today’s rapidly evolving accounting technologies.
Why aren’t accounting students learning what they need to know in this crucial area? Is the accounting education field so focused on students graduating that they can’t provide students with the current information they actually need to get a job—and keep it? What’s missing? What is relevant today that they aren’t getting trained in?
The Accounting Revolution
The technology of bookkeeping tools is evolving at a rapid rate. Bookkeepers were once simply considered teams of people keeping records, managing payroll, and so on. Today, however, the position requires someone who is highly tech savvy. Apps are ruling the world these days, and the field of accounting is no exception.
Apps and software from Sage, Certify, Bill.com, Expensify, Xero, and others have streamlined nearly all responsibilities for us accountants and bookkeepers. That’s great, but if novices are not being taught how to use these programs in school, where can they get this critical training?
This presents a problem for business owners because when we hire a recent graduate and discover that they are not adept in using the latest apps and software, we have to teach them. Company time and resources are depleted when we find ourselves in the position of having to train them from square one. Mind you, we want our new accountants to succeed, and we’re happy to help them get there, but we shouldn’t be in the position of having to make up for what CPA teaching programs are failing to do.
The point is, wouldn’t it be great if newly minted CPAs showed up to an interview with a working knowledge of what will drive them to success? I think the accounting curriculum needs to add some courses—ones that would teach students more “real world accounting” scenarios—like applying what they learn in a textbook to what clients actually need.
Clients don’t always want to do what is necessary to get their books in order. Oftentimes a new CPA will do whatever it takes to appease the client, regardless of whether or not they are making some serious accounting mistakes. Here’s where some more technical courses would come in handy. Teach these kids the importance of automation as well as the basic navigation of up-to-date accounting apps and software.
I think these sorts of certifications should be acquired during their time in school. If these types of certifications had existed when I was a student, I would have jumped at the opportunity to get certified and stick out from my classmates.
If We’re Not Part of the Solution We’re Part of the Problem
My opinion is that we can’t stand idly by and let these students flounder when they get out into the “real world.” But how? What can we do as employers to make their transition easier and our businesses more proactive?
We need to help our potential accountants coming out of school by supplying them with more knowledge. By that I mean hands-on training that will prep them for success in today’s fast-changing accounting profession. I believe active training on the latest programs and apps is absolutely necessary. Prospective employees should be showing up to their job interview with these skills already established on their resumes. If we are not taking action to make this a reality, I feel like we are just part of the problem of wasting various people’s time and money.
Perhaps implementing a test on software, that prospective employees can take prior to their first day on the job, is the way to go. Going that route would provide us with a strong point of reference for the hiring decision. We could easily provide some “interview testing” by providing real-life scenarios and asking applicants to come up with a great accounting solution as well as point to which apps would work best for each scenario.
The tests could also include examples of typical information an accountant would look for during the course of their day, and the applicant could verbally tell us what file needs to be pulled. Tests for knowledge of how to use cloud accounting and familiarity with receipt saving apps like Expensify would also be helpful. The developers of apps and programs like Sage, Expensify, and Bill.com are generally happy to help with training, so perhaps they could provide some sort of certification as well.
The way I see it, those of us working in this field are a team. Our businesses may compete, but sometimes we need to look at the bigger picture and realize that times are changing for all of us. What change can we make at the CPA educational level to help produce the most effective employees? I think it’s time to put our heads together and figure this out.
I think the first step would be to form a committee of experienced accountants. We can easily create an online forum to generate interest. Once we have developed an outreach team, going out to schools and speaking on the topic will promote a desire for students to learn what they need to know. We can then further utilize our online forums to generate a universal job interview test to make sure that the CPAs of the future are ready and able to tackle whatever comes their way.
Ultimately, when it comes to new employees, their success is our success. It is vital that we take a look at this issue and be as proactive as we can to ensure our success for the long run. Let’s try to make a change in the industry by working together. I’m optimistic that we can really turn things around by evolving our field just as steadily as technology is evolving.
What are your experiences with just graduated CPAs? What solutions have you come up with? I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts. Let’s start a dialog on how to tackle this important challenge.