What do young accountants want to do with their lives?

By   Daniel Hood
October 25, 2023

Perhaps the crowning irony of the accounting profession's pipeline problem is that people are staying away from accounting in droves just at the moment that it is becoming a better place to work than ever before.

It's true: This is the best time in history to be an accountant. Young people joining the profession now will get paid more, have more flexibility, get more input into how their firms operate, do more interesting work, have more career opportunities, have much more freedom in what they wear to work, and just generally enjoy themselves more than any previous generation of accountants in history.

This is a great story to tell, and accounting firms and the profession as a whole need to shout it from the rooftops to help draw in young people into accounting careers. But firm leaders also need to realize that those careers are changing, and that the young people they're hoping to draw in will face a very different set of choices than they did.

Take the fact that young accountants actually have choices: For instance, most of them will be able to dress for their day — but that doesn't mean they'll know what's appropriate. Many will be able to try out different parts of the firm to find out which fits them best, but that doesn't mean they'll necessarily be able to recognize what fits them best. Similarly, it's fantastic that young accountants are able to take on more responsibility earlier in their careers, but that doesn't mean that they have the management (and self-management) skills to handle it.

Young accountants have more opportunities than ever before, but they're also going to need the skills, self-knowledge and guidance to make the most of them. They need to understand that they're going to have to be more proactive in managing their careers than previous generations, figuring out which opportunities are right and then pursuing them, while at the same time laying out their own long-term roadmaps to achieving both their work and personal goals.

And the profession needs to help them. It is not enough just to offer the opportunities — firms must clearly lay out the career paths available to their young accountants, and train them in the business and management skills they'll need based on those chosen paths. And managers and mentors need to help them identify their strengths and weaknesses, and guide them toward opportunities that suit both.

In the end, for young accountants to have more opportunities than ever before, firm leaders and managers will need to do more hands-on management and career development work than ever before, but the alternative is seeing those young accountants flee the profession after just a few years — or, worse yet, not joining it in the first place.