A guest blog this week from Mike Whitmire, who is the co-founder and CEO of FloQast, an accounting management software company headquartered in Los Angeles. The company works closely with a range of organizations of varying scope and size, helping them to close their books more quickly, efficiently and accurately.
For longer than I’ve been a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), accounting talent has been a scarce commodity. Consider this: back in 1999, the Journal of Accountancy ran a story with the title “Stopping the Brain Drain” about the struggles of small and midsize CPA firms to find and retain good accountants.
For the last couple of years, the unemployment rate for accountants has been substantially lower than the rate for most workers. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the unemployment rate for accountants and auditors was 1.4 percent. Then COVID-19 came, and in April the number of jobs lost was, quite literally, off the charts – with national unemployment coming in at 14.7 percent.
Fortunately for us, accounting and finance skills are still in high demand. By the end of the second quarter, when unemployment for all types of jobs had improved to 11.1 percent, unemployment for controllers was 5.2 percent and 4.2 percent for staff and senior accountants. That’s according to a recent Robert Half report, The Demand for Skilled Talent in the COVID-19 Landscape.
Even though unemployment at 4.2 percent is about double (or even triple or quadruple) the rate that we’ve seen for accounting jobs for the last few years, it’s still better than the rate for other types of jobs. Thanks to technology, our jobs were relatively easy to transfer from in-office to working remotely from home. Let’s take a look at what the rest of 2020 might mean for accounting and finance pros looking for new jobs.
Automation Is Changing the Nature of the Work
Before the pandemic, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics was predicting that growth in accounting jobs would keep pace with growth of the overall economy, and that employment of accountants and auditors would increase 6 percent between 2018 and 2028.
But that doesn’t mean that all accounting jobs will be on the upswing once the economy returns to some semblance of normal. The scarcity of talent combined with an explosion of technology in accounting means that employers have been learning to do more with less for some time. According to a 2018 report by McKinsey & Company, “…currently demonstrated technologies can fully automate 42 percent of finance activities and mostly automate a further 19 percent.” These functions include general accounting operations, cash disbursement, revenue management, and financial planning and analysis.
We’re already seeing signs of that. For example, in the Robert Half report, although the unemployment rate for staff and senior accountants was 4.2 percent, bookkeepers and accounting clerks are more than twice as likely to be jobless, with an unemployment rate of 9.8 percent.
As companies automate the parts of accounting that are easily automatable, they need fewer people with entry-level skills — like bookkeepers and accounting clerks. Employers are looking for people with higher level skills, as well as people who can do what technology can’t do (or can’t do yet). However, on balance, CFOs predict that technology will create more jobs than it destroys.
Here are three of the top skills that employers are looking for, according to a recent report by Robert Half:
● General business knowledge. Having a good understanding of how the different parts of a business work and being able to explain how finance and accounting supports the work others do across the business will become key in the future.
● Technology expertise. Beyond Excel and accounting systems, knowledge of software for business intelligence, data analytics, and forecasting will become part of the job.
● Communication skills. That beautiful spreadsheet won’t mean anything to someone outside of accounting, so learning to tell the story behind those numbers is essential.
Do you have these skills? If not, find ways to improve them. Some say that the most important skill for the future will be the ability to keep learning. If you stop learning new skills, you may go the way of the dinosaur.
Remote Work Is Here to Stay
Cloud accounting technology made it possible for accountants to consider working from home, but with COVID-19, we all had to do just that overnight. But now that we’ve been working from home for a few months in a giant global experiment, it’s not likely we’ll go back.
Forbes looked at surveys of remote work in the COVID-19 era and found a general consensus that remote work is here to stay. Among the studies cited were one from IBM that found that 80 percent of those currently working remotely want to continue doing so at least occasionally, and 58 percent want that to become their primary method of working. To bolster those studies, take a look at a recent survey of human capital executives that The Conference Board did in April. They found that 77 percent of executives expect that more workers will continue to work remotely even a year after the pandemic subsides.
Employers Are Giving Millennials What They Want
More than half of Americans are Millennials or younger, and many of them are leading companies. That means that the workplace is becoming more aligned to the things we care about. Millennials and Gen Y respondents to the 2020 update to Deloitte’s annual Millennial survey gave employers high marks for responding well to the pandemic, creating a diverse and inclusive working environment, having a positive impact on local communities, and offering training and mentorship opportunities. These changes are inspiring increased loyalty to employers: the percentage of respondents who indicated they were considering changing jobs in the next two years fell from 49 percent in 2019 to just 31 percent in 2020.
What’s the Big Picture?
Between the continuing relative scarcity of accounting and finance talent and the generational changes to the workplace, advantages in today’s workplace are tilted heavily in favor of employees. Don’t like the pay, culture, or lack of flexibility at your current job? That’s easy to change. Plus, with the growing normality of remote work, you don’t need to limit your job search to just your town or state. Up your game by mastering some rare and valuable tech and communication skills, and you’ll be on your way to writing your own ticket.