Career training a key tool to lure accounting talent

By Ken Tysiac and Andrew Kenney

It may not be enough anymore to offer talented finance and accounting job candidates positions with good pay, benefits, or even perks such as flexible hours.

With talent in high demand, some employers are finding that it’s essential to offer training and skills development opportunities.

Jessica Lincoln Thomas, CPA, CGMA, east regional controller for packaging manufacturer Pregis in New York, finds that candidates age 21–25 don’t even ask about training and learning opportunities. Instead, they assume they will have access to them if they are hired.

“It’s usually after that first job that they realize training is so important,” Thomas said. “You take it for granted, but in a lot of companies, sometimes you actually have to advocate for those opportunities.”

Those opportunities are important in recruiting, according to survey data. Almost two-thirds (64%) of finance and accounting professionals surveyed by staffing services firm Robert Half said the chance to gain new skills is a very important consideration when evaluating a job opportunity. An additional 34% said the opportunity to develop new skills is somewhat important when they consider a career move.

Many of these candidates are dealing from a position of strength. Forty-three percent of the respondents to the most recent AICPA Business & Industry Economic Outlook Survey said that, compared with the end of 2014, they are seeing increasing competition for good candidates. Another 25% said strong competition is continuing.

Meanwhile, 65% of respondents to a recent CPA Letter Daily poll said finding qualified talent is a significant challenge. Salaries in finance and accounting also are trending upward.

“The business climate has continued to improve, and [accounting and finance employers] are hiring at rates that we haven’t seen since pre-2008,” said Dan DeNisco, vice president of Robert Half Management Resources.

Career development is important for luring professionals in public accounting as well as business and industry.

Mark Mitchell, a tax director in McGladrey LLP’s Houston office, said the firm offers coaches and mentors to advise new hires in their careers. He said new hires often start in auditing and start early with career mapping and thinking about specializing.

Job candidates often ask about skills development, although it may be a question they are coached to ask. “There are a lot of kids who say, ‘I’m a hard worker, and I want to learn a lot,’ ” Mitchell said.

Thomas, who is responsible for four plant facilities with Pregis, said that for current employees, annual reviews are an ideal time to check in on their progress and satisfaction with skills development. In the Robert Half survey, half of respondents were very concerned and an additional 38% were somewhat concerned about keeping their skills current in the next three to five years.

While Thomas values high-level concepts, such as strategic thinking, she really emphasizes interpersonal skills and technical training. For example, while many young employees have used higher Excel functions on occasion, they often forget how to implement them by the time they’re hired.

In the end, opportunities for advancement and education are central to employees’ motivation, Thomas said. A desire for self-improvement can be deeply personal.

“I need to work somewhere I can have impact, where I can have opportunity, where I can help the company grow,” she said.

Ken Tysiac ( is a JofA editorial director. Sabine Vollmer (, a JofA senior editor, contributed to this article.

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