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Generation Gap Widens in Accounting

Via LinkedIn : With CPA firms locked in a battle for top-level talent, wages are advancing at record rates in desperate efforts t both retain and recruit highly-prized professionals, according to CPA Trendlines Research.

Partners and staffers alike, feeling stifled and underused at their current firms, are finding a broad array of new opportunities at other firms. And where they can’t find the right position at another firm, they are creating their own.

Los Angeles CPA Derek Davis, for example, left a career at a Big Four firm to start his own practice. But his first hire wasn’t an assistant. And his first partner wasn’t another CPA.

Instead, Davis teamed with a software designer. And they didn’t open an office, they launched an iPhone app. At sharedeconomycpa.com, they specialize in the fast-growing “gig” economy of displaced workers now self-employed as independent contractors – software developers, Uber drivers, AirBnB operators and TaskRabbit workers. Today, the “gig economy” is growing up, with the merger of Elance and oDesk a sign of a maturing industry.

The turmoil in the CPA job market comes amidst a long run of expansion in professional services since the crash of 2008. Overall, the tax and accounting business has added back the job losses suffered almost a decade ago. Today now compensation packages are being used as a key competitive weapon in an arena under pressure from mergers and acquisitions, a succession crisis of epidemic proportions and a dearth of seasoned practitioners.

Senior managers, especially, are walking a tightrope. “You must be willing to be part of the change,” one CPA at an Arizona-based firm tells CPA Trendlines. But she adds in the same breath, “You need to learn how to navigate ‘old timers.’”

Another senior has already given up on his firm, telling CPA Trendlines, “Ownership is getting old and stale. Greedy, too.”

Top management isn’t getting the message. A managing partner at a mid-sized firm in Florida says his firm has never offered mentoring, coaching or leadership development. And he doesn’t plan to. To him, that’s the responsibility of the employee. He tells staffers, “Be willing to provide your own career advancement.”

In a way, the CPA profession is as responsible for today’s profit and growth pressures as the economy at large, insofar as the profession discarded tens of thousands of trained and tested employees during the recession and has done little since to refill the talent pipeline.

In all, the tax, accounting and payroll sectors employ about a million Americans and the sectors are growing faster than the economy as a whole. Meanwhile, wages are surging, up about 6% year-over-year on average. At CPA firms, wages are rising even faster, at almost a 9% annualized rate – even though headcounts are expanding at only about 3% and utilization rates are flat.

Many CPA firm may believe they have a great team in place, loyal and collaborative. But CPA Trendlines polling tells another story.

In fact, fully one-third of CPA firm staffers say they routinely fail to “work as a team.” Instead, they work as individuals, in competition with each other for rewards and appreciation, succumbing to back-biting and trash-talking.

That’s not to say that the other two-thirds of firms are doing much better. Even in firms that score relatively well in CPA Trendlines’ measures of staff solidarity, most employees mock formal performance evaluations as useless and chide top management for being distant and unaccountable.

For instance, 73% of staffers say they work at firms that are less than completely devoted to rewarding business development. And 66% of staffers feel they’re being blocked from meeting with clients.

And about four out of five staffers say their firms fail to offer real mentoring, coaching, or leadership training. Maybe worst of all, just as many say their firms demonstrate no clear set of values or vision for the future. So is it any wonder that most staffers today say they’d rather work someplace else if given the opportunity?

Clearly, some firms will need to improve their personnel management techniques to win the talent wars.

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