CFOs report difficulty finding accounting and finance talent


Staffing levels in corporate accounting and finance are expected to remain stable in the third quarter, according to a recent survey of CFOs.

But the same executives increasingly are reporting difficulty finding qualified professionals.

Sixty-nine percent of U.S. CFOs surveyed for the staffing services firm Robert Half’s Professional Employment Report forecast for the third quarter of 2012 said it is challenging to find skilled accounting and finance professionals today.

That’s an increase of seven percentage points over the previous quarter. In the survey forecasting the second quarter of 2011, with the economy beginning to emerge from the recession, just 37% of executives reported difficulty finding skilled accounting and finance professionals.

“It’s actually amazing, the increase in CFOs who are really talking about how hard it is to find the right talent,” said Ryan Sutton, senior vice president for the New England district for Robert Half.

After a busy end to 2011 and start to 2012 in terms of expected hires and cuts, CFOs overwhelmingly reported for the second straight quarter that they expect their staffing levels to remain unchanged. For the second consecutive quarter, more than 90% of executives surveyed do not expect to add or reduce accounting and finance staff.

It’s not clear from the survey whether the increased difficulty in recruiting qualified professionals has caused a drop-off in hiring and a stabilizing of staffs. The economy also may be a factor, as the overall U.S. unemployment rate has essentially remained unchanged (between 8.1% and 8.3%) for the first five months of this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data released Friday showed a civilian noninstitutional population unemployment rate of 8.2%, up from 8.1% the previous month.

Ninety-three percent of those surveyed said they expect no changes in accounting and finance personnel in the third quarter of 2012. In the previous quarter, 91% did not anticipate changes in staffing levels in accounting and finance.

The third-quarter forecast shows that 4% of CFOs expect cuts in accounting and finance staffing, and 3% plan increases.

Those numbers in the last two quarters are widely divergent from the previous two quarters. The report for the first quarter of 2012 showed that 20% of executives expected to increase accounting and finance staff and 11% planned decreases. The previous report, for the final quarter of 2011, showed that 12% of executives planned increases and 7% expected decreases in accounting and finance staffing.

On-the-job training provides one possible answer for executives who are struggling to find qualified staff, Sutton said. He said employers who can’t recruit staff accountants with Oracle experience, for example, might need to hire them based on their other skills and help them develop their business systems skills.

“Obviously, we all would like to pick up the free agents who can come in and hit the ground running,” Sutton said. “If you’re not able to do that, whether it’s finding the skills, or finding the skills at the price point you want, at some point you need to drop back and really come up with a development program that allows you to pay the right wages that are in your guidelines as an organization.”

Accounting and finance professionals who are struggling to find a job can improve their prospects by sharpening the skills that employers want, Sutton said.

“You have to update the skills, specifically those business systems skills,” he said. “That really is the one thing that differentiates the top candidates from the medium candidates, is the business systems savvy.”

Ken Tysiac ( ) is a JofA senior editor.

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