For some time now municipalities have felt the crunch from the accountant shortage and unlike public accounting firms feeling the same, these entities don’t have the luxury of turning down work to ease it nor can they overwork their people with no overtime. In March, Bloomberg reported that city credit ratings are at risk due to staffing shortages driving a lack of timely disclosures and filings. Last year, 30 cities, counties, and other municipalities lost their credit ratings completely. Late filings aren’t terribly uncommon in the world of government entities but the delays are piling up and retirements of an aging workforce in the public sector aren’t helping. The issue is a two-pronged one: 1) a shortage of outside auditors holding things up and 2) shortages within government departments preventing issuers from filing and producing statements on time.
So what can we do about it beyond complaining, holding conferences and meetings to discuss it, and rehashing the same AICPA data points that are repeated in every article ever written about the accountant shortage? Glad you didn’t ask!
An opinion piece in Governing by former Governmental Accounting Standards Board member Girard Miller suggests that we can lure — his word — young people into the profession by offering government accounting boot camps. It honestly isn’t the craziest idea that’s been thrown against the wall in the year or two since everyone started sounding alarms about the lack of talent. Let’s see what you’ve got, Girard.
The state associations of finance officers and CPAs can play a key role in working with their state universities and the national affiliates. Using the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA)’s “accounting academy” training program as a curriculum blueprint, they should offer free tuition to college students willing to spend a few days attending an intensive boot camp in governmental accounting and a similar class in governmental audits designed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), for which they can be awarded a credential of some sort; students with no or limited work experience are always looking for ways to dress up their résumés, and this is a great way to lure them into the profession.
In preparation for these events, a “train the trainers” academy could be organized by the GFOA to assure quality control and coach established local professionals who know the subject but may need pointers on teaching and motivating collegians. A remote attendance option could also be designed to enable students to participate from home or campus housing, if travel and lodging are prohibitive.
Feel free to crap all over this idea in the comments if you’re so inclined.
This training could also be made available to state and local government staff workers at cost and possibly on weekends to minimize disruption to job functions. At the state level, the controllers’ and finance departments’ staffs should work with their national associations to sponsor similar programs, especially in-service training modules. The 19 state controllers and their counterparts elsewhere should be popping up frequently in college classrooms to inspire students and provide insights to budding professionals. CPA-credentialed city and county controllers and CFOs can and should do the same. It’s payback time and a legacy opportunity, unique in most lifetimes.
That last part is a bit much, my guy. But yes, government workers should use all that glorious spare time they have and use it to go promote their jobs to young people. Be sure to mention to the auditoriums full of high school students that while the money may not be great to start out, the hours are better and it’s much harder to get fired than industry or public. That’s a particularly strong selling point in a bad economy. Girard here also suggests a “municipal equivalent of the GI Bill” that would offer college debt relief for certain government accountants who come on board and stay there.
He also speaks about a potential untapped resource for talent at the workforce level: account clerks. Again, not a terrible idea. This is a unique approach as most shortage discussions center around high schools and colleges and somehow convincing students headed to better-paying industries to choose accounting. In this case, accounting is offered to people already somewhat familiar with it as a way to level up their careers:
An overlooked option in many cases is the nationwide army of account clerks, historically mostly women, who lack collegiate training and credentials but who are entering data and running the books daily. Building them a career ladder that includes accounting fundamentals, with a focus on the unique features and nuances of governmental accounting, is a taller and longer-term challenge for the professional associations that should be addressed. Artificial intelligence is a potential tool that senior GFOA staff is exploring, to leverage such talent as a worksite tool.
The whole article is worth a read if you’re into this sort of thing. The very end offers advice that the profession would be wise to internalize: The problem won’t be solved by waiting for somebody else to handle it.