By: Tracy Levine, President – Advantage Talent Inc. and Michael Levine, Principal – Advantage Talent Inc.

What have employment trends been like for the accounting industry in both Georgia and nationwide in past years?  Looking back to the period from 2003 through early 2008, the trend was very positive for accountants in both ‘Industry’ and ‘Public Accounting’.  In mid-2008, many companies in ‘Industry’ reduced their hiring appetite, but ‘Public Accounting’ firms were still scrambling to find accountants at all levels to ramp up for the upcoming Busy Season.  By February 2009 (only 7 months later), many of these same ‘Public Accounting’ firms were forced to lay people off due to lack of demand for their services. 

Over the past several years was there a shortage of experienced Accountants?  From 2004 to early 2008 there were some minor shortages in ‘Industry’ but ‘Public Accounting’ experienced a shortage of experienced candidates for their positions.

What’s the overall landscape of Accounting Employment?  Today, the employment environment for both ‘Industry’ and ‘Public Accounting’ is mixed.  Some companies and some firms are expanding and others are contracting.

How has the recession impacted employment in the Accounting industry?  Unemployment within ‘Public Accounting’ and ‘Industry’ has increased significantly during the last 2 years.  Many of the ‘Public Accounting’ firms have cut staff, and large numbers of accounting professionals from ‘Industry’ are between jobs and looking for work.  The first half of 2010 saw some modest improvement in the government and healthcare sectors, but employment in many sectors continued to decline throughout most of 2010.

How has it impacted education in the Accounting field? Are there fewer students?   The number of students majoring in accounting has been steadily growing.  In fact, according to the last AICPA survey, 2008 saw the largest number of graduates in history.  This trend is expected to continue.  The major problem is replacing the Accounting Ph.D. Professors.  They are retiring in large numbers.  The current economy may help this problem.  Many of the new graduates who did not get hired continued their education.   The AICPA has a fund to help students who wish to continue their education and earn an Accounting Ph.D.

Are fewer people being certified as CPAs? Or is it just more difficult for those new to the profession to get jobs because of layoffs, consolidations, etc.?     Just like their peers, accounting graduates were affected by the bad economy.  According to a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, only 19.7 percent of all 2009 graduates who applied for a job actually had one. 

The AICPA reported a significant drop in students sitting for the C.P.A. Exam when the exam was computerized that made it look like the number of students sitting for the exam had dropped 50%. The truth of the matter is there has been a small decrease. When the exam was given in paper form, if a student took the exam in May and November, they were many times counted twice. 

What’s in store for Accountants in the coming years?  We believe the demand for CPAs will be strong whether the economy improves or not.  New governmental healthcare/insurance regulations and Financial Reform regulations will require companies to put significant resources toward compliance.  International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are scheduled to be implemented over the next few years. Some companies that have been putting off Merger and Acquisition activity or other transactions will get ‘back in the game’ at some point.  All of these activities represent good news for the accounting community because all of these issues create additional demand for CPAs.

Will employment numbers for Accountants (both in Georgia and nationally) increase again? If so, why?  According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment for a number of accounting and finance specialties will rise as fast or faster than the average for all occupations in the coming years.  In fact, accounting was listed as one of the top 20 industries that would experience the most growth through 2018.  The MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, a think tank that focuses on baby boomers, predicts that a worker shortage could develop within 10 years as this group retires.  This will be particularly true for the Public Accounting Firms.  Many of the current Partners are part of the baby boomer generation.  Public Accounts at all levels will have more opportunities for positive career advancement as the top positions become available.  We have seen a huge pickup in hiring by Public Accounting Firms across the nation.  This trend should continue well into first quarter 2011.

Check out our National Public and Industry Accounting Jobs at http://www.advantagetalentinc.com/Job_Openings.html