Tax & Accounting Blog

Older and Wiser

Accounting Firms, Professional Development December 10, 2014

Let’s face it: No one is getting any younger. And there aren’t as many young professionals making their way up through the ranks as there used to be. That means tax and accounting firms need to start planning for the future – now.

“Just based on sheer numbers, there will be fewer seasoned professionals to choose from,” says Sandra L. Wiley, chief operating officer and senior consultant at Boomer Consulting, Inc., which provides planning and consulting services to accounting firms. “It’s an opportunity for this profession to grow people faster and do things differently to retain the best and the brightest.”

Here are three ways Wiley urges firms to nurture the best talent – and attract new clients in an increasingly DIY world.

1. Train the Way Younger Employees Learn Best

Firm leadership must recognize that younger professionals may not have the same expectations about learning that they did.

“Baby boomers like me were taught that you learn by being thrown into the situation and figuring it out,” Wiley says. “Gen X and Gen Y want collaboration with other people, both peers and mentors. And they want someone who will talk them through not only the work, but where they want to be in their careers.”

Wiley says it’s imperative to identify core competencies and skills for each position, and provide the training necessary to help employees succeed and grow.

2. Provide Ample Career Development Opportunities

There’s no longer a single career ladder to climb. Younger generations see themselves as having career paths – plural – and may be seeking growth opportunities outside the partner track.

“Some will choose to be partners, but others may want to have more flexibility to move around, take a leave of absence and then come back, for example,” Wiley says. “We have to show them how they can grow in their career by making sure they understand the core competencies for the direction they want to take.”

Also essential is being more transparent about the firm’s operations and fostering individual employee accountability earlier than some firms may be used to.

“Younger employees want to own initiatives,” Wiley says, “so put them on committees or task forces sooner or give them responsibility for a project.”

3. Become a Trusted Advisor

Many firms are starting to put more emphasis on being a trusted advisor – and that’s good for both staff and client recruitment, Wiley says.

“There’s going to be an opportunity for people who do not have ‘CPA’ behind their name but who do have great skills in other areas, like financial planning, consulting, human resources, and business development,” she says.

That means firms can cast a wider net when seeking new hires. It also means firms have a strong case to make to potential clients – even those who think they don’t need an accountant.

“To really become that trusted advisor to our clients, we have to start teaching young people to see themselves that way,” Wiley says. “We’re people who really understand how to take care of our clients’ business for them, and playing above the line of commodity work is going to be huge moving forward.”