Pay extra close attention to accounting firm press releases this year, they will be packed with claims of record applicants, excess hiring, and huge numbers of incoming interns. Why? Firms have a vested interest in acting as if teams are fully staffed and everything is OK because were they to admit things are decidedly not OK clients will panic and cause the equivalent of a bank run on professional services.
The coordinated PR push by firms has already begun. EY cranked out several news releases last year about record intern numbers, like this one out of London in October:
EY has welcomed a record 1,473 students into its UK business this year – up 35% compared to 2021 – as the firm continues to invest in young talent to support its future growth.
And PwC just bragged that job applications increased 20% after the firm announced a summer break on top of its winter break:
That announcement, part of a larger package of employee-focused challenges called My+, caused a 20% increase in job applications, according to DeAnne Aussem, managing director PwC’s well-being leader. The firm had since 2003 conducted firmwide breaks in December, but felt it needed to do more.
The goal of firmwide shutdowns? Give employees a chance to recharge without the pressure of knowing that all their coworkers have to pick up the slack, and a chance for managers and workers to take time off together, Aussem said. While it’s not possible to have 100% of the workforce off, the company aims to give everyone that time off, and will work internally to ensure that happens.
The message in 2023 will be strong: “We are hiring. And we have many, many more thousands of applicants than we do open positions. People want to work here.”
Obviously this claim is contradicted by reality. From Why So Many Accountants Are Quitting published in the Wall Street Journal last Wednesday:
More than 300,000 U.S. accountants and auditors have left their jobs in the past two years, a 17% decline, and the dwindling number of college students coming into the field can’t fill the gap.
The exodus is driven by deeper workplace shifts than baby-boomer retirements. Young professionals in the 25- to 34-year-old range and midcareer professionals between the ages of 45 and 54 also departed in high numbers starting in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Recruiters who have been luring experienced accountants into new roles say they are often moving into jobs in finance and technology.
The huge gap between companies that need accountants and trained professionals has led to salary bumps and more temporary workers joining the sector. Still, neither development will fix the fundamental talent pipeline problem: Many college students don’t want to work in accounting. Even those who majored in it.
That entire article is worth a read.
Sure Big 4 firms will always have more applicants than they do available internships and open positions. Despite interest in accounting waning overall, there is still huge value in having a Big 4 name on one’s resume and for students who pursue a career in accounting the experience is unmatched. That isn’t up for debate. In fact, a reasonable person could argue that this prestige is exactly why firms have skated on reputation for all these years. Why increase salaries and decrease workloads when they did none of those things and still had graduates lining up to work there up until now?
The WSJ piece profiles a guy who nearly went all the way but was turned off by his internship. Despite what the firms may say in press releases and news articles, the actual work scares people away.
Jordan Pixley put his attention to detail and love of numbers into his Clemson University accounting classes. But in internships, he felt bogged down by the repetitive tasks of accounting—such as balancing cash sheets—and the work proved less interesting than the college class he enjoyed most—data analysis.
The 22-year-old accounting major attended a KPMG LLP recruiting event in Orlando, Fla., but ultimately chose not to apply. He graduated last week without a job lined up and is exploring opportunities with the U.S. military. Accounting’s grueling hours—70- and 80-hour weeks are common at the biggest public firms before tax and audit deadlines—were part of the turnoff, he said.
“I was a little scared of it, not going to lie,” Mr. Pixley said. “I don’t know if I want to do all that.”
That’s it right there. “I don’t know if I want to do all that.” Clearly Mr. Pixley isn’t alone in feeling that way and it’s long past due for firms to get real with themselves about how that’s mostly their fault.
We’ll be waiting for that press release.