Students, Executives Agree: Accounting Needs a Makeover

Big 4 firm EY has released findings from its Accounting Professional of the Future Survey that illustrate a disconnect in how a career in accounting should be promoted and what the next generation of accountants is looking for in an employer.

While the accounting profession offers long-term stable career benefits, it needs to move beyond misconceptions and attract the next generation of accounting talent, EY said in its report. Survey respondents included about 500 accounting and science, technology, engineering and/or math (STEM) students and 500 senior executives.

While 97% of senior executives expressed optimism about the future of the accounting profession, the survey revealed plenty of opportunity for organizations to become more in-sync with the goals and aspirations of students. Among the findings in the report:

  • Working in diverse teams and work environments is very or extremely important to the professional future of 79% of student respondents; only 36% of senior executives surveyed promote DEI to recruits.
  • Over three-quarters of students report engagement and involvement in the local community is very or extremely important to their professional future; just 27% of finance, accounting and hiring professionals say they promote this to attract potential employees.
  • Making positive environmental, social and governance (ESG) impacts is very important to the professional future of 81% of respondents; just 29% of senior executives say they showcase positive ESG impacts as a selling point of a career in accounting.
  • Nearly 40% of senior executives surveyed predicted that AI will enable professionals to focus less on mundane aspects of their work and use judgement and higher-level thinking; only 19% of students shared this sentiment, and 39% of students said AI could make people more expendable or eliminate many jobs.

Students Seeking Personal Purpose

Some students already describe the accounting profession as highly rewarding (34%) and a steppingstone to leadership positions (34%). Many more (73%) indicated a strong interest in a career that provides opportunities to work on global issues. Highlighting those initiatives in the recruiting process, in addition to ESG, community involvement and workplace diversity, has the potential to help build a stronger talent pipeline, EY says in its report.

“Workplace expectations have evolved. Not only do people want to be supported personally and professionally, but they also want the work they do to align with their personal purpose,” says Ginnie Carlier, EY Americas vice chair for talent. “As the competition for skills and talent continues to grow, organizations need to stay attuned to the workplace preferences of the next generation, foster a culture of care and offer career opportunities that align with employee aspirations.”

Alternative Paths to Earning a CPA License

The survey also finds a general agreement that alternative paths to CPA licensure eligibility would help strengthen the talent pipeline. Nearly 9 in 10 senior executives believe creating more options for students to earn their CPA license would be a benefit, as do 58% of the students surveyed.

“Our survey findings underscore the importance of creating alternate paths for students to become CPAs,” Becky Burke, EY Americas Assurance COO. “A career in accounting can open the door for many opportunities. Organizations, academic institutions and professional associations can collaborate to demonstrate the benefits that a career in accounting provides and remove potential barriers to entry. One of the ways we’re doing this is through the EY Career Path Accelerator, which offers an affordable alternative for students to meet the 150-credit hour requirement for a CPA licensure eligibility.”

Students complete this program while pursuing their bachelor’s degree, or in the summer after graduating, and they become eligible to join EY US after completing four years of college. Since the program’s inception in 2021, over 500 current and former EY interns have enrolled.

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