School Days: CLA Looks to Plant the Accounting Seed Early With New High School Internship Program

INSIDE Public Accounting Monthly continues to look at the variety of ways firms and other stakeholders are working to address the dwindling pipeline of young talent into the profession. In our May issue, we focused on one IPA 100 firm’s strategy for reaching out to prospective accounting students even earlier in their academic careers.      

As in many other professions, college internships have long been an annual staple for accounting firms looking to showcase potential career paths to bright young talent. But with fewer university students pursuing accounting in recent years, more firms are now considering ways to spark an interest in accounting even before students fill out their college applications.

At IPA 100 firm CLA (FY21 net revenue of $1.45 billion), that thought process has resulted in a new high school internship program that CEO Jen Leary sees as a direct response to the shrinking pipeline of young professionals.

“The next generation of leaders has so many more options than they’ve had before, so we decided that we need to provide a positive, enriching experience even earlier than college,” she explains. “Yes, we still hire college interns, but reaching into high schools to provide an internship opportunity to a motivated student is something that can provide dividends to them, and to us, for the future. We have to do this now to get more students interested in becoming accountants – they need to see what a viable and incredible career it can be.”


Designed to provide students with hands-on work experience and opportunities to collaborate with peers from across the country, CLA’s high school internship program is a strategic collaboration with Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and is open to students between 16 and 18. Leary says the firm expects to welcome an inaugural class of 60 interns across 15 of its offices this summer. The interns will work on a variety of projects ranging from client service simulations to social media activities and will have the opportunity to make presentations and enter competitions. The goal, she says, is to take these students on the client journey over the course of nine weeks, allowing them to develop skills in audit, wealth management, tax preparation and financial literacy along the way.

“We want to give these students a glimpse into our world and the world of being a business owner,” she says. “They’ll have a chance to see how we impact the business community at multiple levels and simulate the experience of being a business owner, and will walk away with a greater understanding of the business community.”

In the early phases of the program, Leary hopes that CLA will learn just as much from the interns as they will from the firm. To that end, part of the program will include a special communication project to help the firm determine how to better connect with the next generation of leaders and inform how it communicates with clients and employees. Such lessons just might help open that elusive pipeline of talent in years to come.

“[These students] will help us by leading the way in social media and other platforms to give us insight into the next cohorts within this program and others,” Leary notes. “It is extremely important to continue to grow and evolve as a profession and this program is one way to do that.”


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