by Harris Darver
SCACPA member since 2008

Finding value and personal gratification, along with professional success in a career is a priority for today’s graduates - entry-level accounting professionals included. Entry-level accounting professionals desire a different kind of value from their profession than what has been expected by earlier generations.

Flexibility (or not)
Where older generations are more likely to emphasize productivity and billable hours, today’s young professionals find value in community involvement and service, which offer intrinsic as opposed to monetary rewards. Those entering this profession may be challenged by inflexible expectations of production and hours that are characteristic of the traditional accounting firm structure. Additionally, new entrants will be challenged to persuade their supervisors to invest in opportunities that allow this younger generation to grow leadership skills and develop a community presence. Again, this challenge is rooted in a difference of opinion as to wherein value lies.  Young professionals will be challenged to demonstrate to their supervisors the value of this non-billable time.

Work Life Balance
More so than earlier generations, today’s entry-level staff are seeking a balance between work demands and their personal time. Entry-level staff are likely more willing to sacrifice salary in exchange for reduced working hours. This does not mean that they do not desire professional advancement, but they are less willing to sacrifice family and personal time to do so. This presents a challenge to entry-level staff that are evaluated for advancement by members of an older generation who view sacrifices of personal time as an expected necessity to achieve a level of production that warrants advancement. This is particularly true of those supervisors who have achieved their success through sacrificing personal and family time.

Maintaining Individuality
A sense of individuality and personal identity is important to our society’s younger generation. This will challenge young professionals to maintain their individuality in an occupation whose work product lends itself to little creativity and is strictly regulated. Additionally, while some young professionals may be fortunate to be given meaningful responsibilities early in their career through which they begin to develop niche practice areas early on, this is not the case for many. Young professionals will face the challenge of finding meaningful work and developing an area of expertise with supervisors who invest in that employee’s future. This younger generation will also be challenged to concern themselves more with the quality of their work product than how quickly the product was produced. This generation is often more results-driven, which will prove to be a challenge in this profession, particularly when detailed careful analysis and follow-up is extremely important.

Emerging Technology
Technology plays a major role in challenges that will be faced by younger professionals. While this generation is well-versed in technological skills compared to older generations, these professionals may have less ability to communicate with or manage staff. In particular, younger professionals may not understand the value of face-to-face communication. Too often young professionals attempt to address complex topics or conflict using short-hand communication when a more productive form of communication may be over the phone or an in-person conversation. Given the common-place nature of email or text messages in this generation’s lifestyle, they may be challenged to fully develop thoughts and concepts through email, letters and reports as opposed to sending short-hand communication.

Related is the challenge that the accounting profession itself faces in recruiting today’s young professionals. Today’s educational system is trending toward more creativity and technology-driven careers. As a result, the accounting profession is challenged to rebuild and market its image in a way to attract creative-minded individuals who may potentially view this profession as one made up of stuffy employees using an abacus. In addition to recruiting talented graduates, the profession must concern itself with keeping those talented young professionals who likely envision that they will have a number of employers throughout their careers.

While a number of challenges face entry-level professionals in our industry, through cooperation and open-mindedness, both younger and older generations can learn from one another while improving the quality and diversity of our industry.

Harris Darver, CPA, is manager with McGregor & Company, LLP, in Columbia.  He currently serves as chair of the YCPAs Leadership Cabinet and is a member of the YCPAs Network.

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