KPMG Vice Chair Greg Engel has been having trouble sleeping lately. It isn’t climate change or social justice or the price of eggs keeping him up at night, like most accounting leaders he is consumed by the talent shortage. No really, that’s what he told CFO Dive.
Not to worry, Engel has hope. Hope that the ongoing layoffs in tech will scare people into accounting.
“A lot of people went to the technology sector because it was exciting. But now that Meta and Twitter and all these other companies are laying off people, kids going into college might go, ‘wait a minute, maybe KPMG sounds a little better than Twitter,’” Engel said in an interview. “Accounting is that boring, stable profession that doesn’t do as well in hugely expansive economies but does great when the economy’s on the downslide.”
If that idea sounds familiar, it should. In December the Wall Street Journal wrote about the accountant shortage and got a quote from someone at Robert Half who said: “In a downturn, students tend to gravitate toward degrees in accounting and finance because they are considered more stable career paths than, for example, marketing and communications.” Everyone is waiting with bated breath for the economy to really get ugly, because then finally firm leaders will get some rest knowing that young people are getting terrified into the accounting track and at last our talent problems shall be solved. What a strategy, eh?
Greg’s competitors at EY also thought tech layoffs would help them find talent, salivating over the idea of swathes of desperate, unemployed tech workers flocking to the safety and security of accounting firms. That hasn’t panned out so far. 79% of laid off tech workers find a new job within three months, four out of ten of them found a new gig within a month. This isn’t Grapes of Wrath with caravans of dusty programmers in American Apparel hoodies roaming the country for any work they can get. Sorry, Greg.
And this brings us back to the PR problem driving the shortage in the first place. “If things get really bad, you’ll get desperate enough to work for us” isn’t a great selling point. Especially for a younger generation who did not personally experience the joy (read: difficulty) of staying employed in 2008, it’s harder to scare people who haven’t been through something like that. Not to mention it was only three short years ago that firms cut pay and staff due to COVID (handy COVID layoff tracker here), only for many of them to turn around months later to announce record-breaking revenue. So tell us again how accounting isn’t sensitive to the economy as any other sector, Greg.
Anyway, guess we’ll see. Surely 20-year-olds picking college majors can be swayed by this argument, 20-year-olds are known for their ability to think about the distant future and their financial security after all.
KPMG primes shrinking CFO, CPA pipeline [CFO Dive]