Employers embrace apprenticeship program for finance business partners

By Bryan Strickland

Like many CFOs, for many reasons, Paul Young, CPA, CGMA, prefers to fill senior roles with people already in the organization.

"It's very difficult right now to hire externally," said Young, Liberty Bank's senior executive vice president and CFO. "Accounting and finance positions often take six to nine months to fill, demand a high premium, and many of the candidates still do not have all the skills we're looking for in a new hire."

Those obstacles got a little smaller when Young discovered the AICPA's groundbreaking Registered Apprenticeship for Finance Business Partners program.

"Attracting new, diverse talent, and upskilling existing teammates' skill sets are major challenges. When I learned about the apprenticeship program, I said, 'This is perfect for helping my team develop.'"

Young's "Great Eight" — eight Liberty employees — are now a few weeks into piloting the program, the first of its kind for the accounting and finance profession.

Monday in Chicago, as a part of National Apprenticeship Week, the AICPA and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced the signing of the first three companies to the program: Liberty, Aon, and HP.

Liberty registered the first eight program apprentices last month. Aon will follow with 15 apprentices later this month, and HP will bring on 10 apprentices in March.

"What makes this so exciting is that this program responds to the trends in the market, and most importantly, it's beginning to solve the number-one issue facing these finance and accounting teams — which is acquiring qualified, skilled, and diverse talent," said Tom Hood, CPA/CITP, CGMA, executive vice president–Business Engagement & Growth at the AICPA. "If we can help our business and industry members fix their number-one issue, well, that's what we're in business to do. We want to help solve these problems.

"This is the beginning of opening up a new way."

Representatives gathered in Chicago on Monday to mark the signing of three companies to the AICPA’s Registered Apprenticeship for Finance Business Partners program. Pictured (left to right): Mike Neller, Global Controller and Chief Accounting Officer at Aon; Paul Young, senior executive vice president and CFO at Liberty Bank; Brittany Masalosalo, Global Head of Governmental Affairs and Policy at HP; Marty Walsh, U.S. Secretary of Labor; Tom Hood, executive vice president–Business Engagement & Growth at the AICPA.

Hood and Joanne Fiore, vice president–Pipeline and Apprenticeships, CGMA Americas at the AICPA, have been building toward this day of recognition, but it's only the first chapter for a program taking dead-aim at talent-related challenges facing corporate accounting.

While the "Great Eight" at Liberty are current employees receiving vital upskilling via the program, that's just one way the Registered Apprenticeship for Finance Business Partners program can help.

Organizations that implement the program also can choose to train apprentices not currently employed by their company, including recent graduates of either two- or four-year colleges. And, Fiore said, the AICPA is currently working with universities to create a pathway for current students to continue attending school while earning credits through the program.

The program is built around the globally rigorous CGMA Finance Leadership Program. Apprentices who complete the program, which typically takes 18 to 24 months, will be certified as a Finance Business Partner by the DOL and will be awarded the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation.

"Employers are responding really well to this because it marries this really established approach — the apprenticeship — with this globally recognized learning program," Fiore said. "And it marries them at a time when so much is going on with the economy and with what's going on with the profession."

Much of what's going on in the profession isn't unique to the profession, but the challenge is pronounced.

A recent Deloitte survey found that nearly 80% of hiring managers in finance and accounting believe they'll be hard-pressed to attract and retain enough talent over the next year. That was echoed during a recent "Future of Finance" panel discussion at AICPA Council that included Hood and Young, where attendees identified "finding and retaining talent" as the top concern facing their company.

"College enrollment is down, and our Future of Finance group has said that talent is our number-one issue. That's been the case for more than a year," Hood said. "Some of them have said, 'We'd give our right arm if we could get a pipeline of diverse talent.'

"So this has been driven, I think, by three things. It's been driven by a desperate need for more talent. Secondly, companies would love to have diverse talent as part of the mix. And then the third trend that makes it even more applicable is the need for new skills. Through the pandemic, the finance function had to change and adapt, and through that, we found that many of the people deep down in finance departments didn't have the right skills to keep up with the changes and the digital transformation going on in the marketplace."

Added Fiore: "While this was all going on in the accounting profession — the need for talent, diversity, and new skills — what's going on in the American economy was setting us up for success with the apprenticeship. What's generally being called 'skilled through alternative routes,' STAR, the concept that you can make it in a career without going through a four-year degree, is a movement afoot in the United States that apprenticeships are riding a wave on.

"With fewer people going to college, there's a need for more alternative routes. It's the perfect storm for programs like ours to rise, for apprenticeships to get stronger."

The program, launched by the AICPA in November 2021, previously had been approved by the DOL. Then, in September, the program received a grant from the Maryland Department of Labor.

The AICPA and CFOs like Young hope it's only the beginning.

"It's a world-class learning platform, I'm already hearing great feedback how the apprentices are applying what they learn to their current jobs," Young said. "The apprentices have entered at all different levels — the operational level, the management level, and the strategic level — and because we have employees at each level, they're able to share knowledge and have developed their own cohort sessions. We provide mentoring, which is critically important. I'm a mentor for one of the groups, and we've received great support from the AICPA.

"When our apprentices complete the program, they can become Chartered Global Management Accountants, which is an accreditation of increasing distinction in accounting and finance. That's a designation they aspire to, and it's putting a lot of pep in their step."

What others are saying

  • Marty Walsh, U.S. Secretary of Labor: "The Registered Apprenticeship for Finance Business Partners program will help ensure diverse, skilled teams are ready to fill financial jobs now and in the future. Registered Apprenticeship is a proven model and solid investment for employers seeking to develop a talented and diverse workforce. Today's signing reflects the department's continued commitment to expanding Registered Apprenticeship programs in high-growth and emerging industries."
  • Mike Neller, Global Controller at Aon: "Our people are the heartbeat of our firm. We are committed to creating a culture of opportunity for our colleagues that makes them feel more relevant, connected, and valued to help them achieve their full professional potential. We are excited to make this program available to our finance colleagues, to help them gain essential skills, earn their CGMA designation, and carve out a path for job training, mentorship, and career growth."
  • Marie Myers, CFO at HP: "Diversity is a business imperative; when we attract and nurture people from diverse backgrounds and increase their representation in the workplace, we strengthen a company's business objectives. We look forward to being a part of this Registered Apprenticeship for Finance Business Partners program as an offering in our Finance Cohort Program launching in 2023 with hiring from graduates of HBCUs [historically Black colleges and universities] to drive more diverse and equitable talent across our team."

— To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Bryan Strickland at Bryan.Strickland@aicpa-cima.com.

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