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How to Use Your Small Firm Strengths to Attract Young Talent

The Woodard Report Team
Posted by The Woodard Report Team on Feb 7, 2023 3:53:08 PM

With an enduring labor shortage affecting accounting and bookkeeping firms, Gen Z—the youngest adults entering the work world—can’t be overlooked. BLS data projects employment of accountants and auditors to grow seven percent from 2020 to 2030, so competition for young talent is fierce. But don’t assume large firms will be the only ones to win over Gen Z job applicants. In some ways, small-to-mid-sized firms have an edge. 

A global study by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) surveyed 9,000 respondents ages 18-25 to find out what this next generation wants in an accounting career. Defining an entire generation with broad brushstrokes is dicey, but when studies point out certain commonalities, it’s wise to pay attention.  

For example, all Gen-Zers grew up in a digital world and were affected by COVID-19 and the economic crisis that followed while in college or as they graduated. These events shaped how they view the work world and what they look for in an employer. Insights like these can help you determine what you can do to attract them to your firm. 

Flex your flexibility muscle 

Small-to-midsized firms can be more flexible in the type of work they offer young talent and the work environment they create for them. 

What they want 

  • The ACCA/IFAC study showed that Gen Z values organizations that will help them continuously acquire new skills—47% said the opportunity to develop a broad range of skills is the key attraction factor for accountancy. 
  • Work-life balance was cited as a key attraction factor for 48% of respondents. 
  • Gen Z-ers want meaningful work and to engage with clients—they see this as a way to hone skills that can’t be replaced by technology.  

What you can do 

  • Expose them to various responsibilities within different industries and different business challenges to help them better shape their career path—something they’re less likely to get in a large firm as entry-level employees. 
  • Consider limiting time off during tax season but giving them “unlimited” time off (with some parameters) off-season. SHRM offers tips on how to manage an unlimited vacation policy. 
  • Show them how you’ve adjusted employees’ schedules and work arrangements to accommodate their life changes. 
  • Involve them early in client interactions and have a more experienced mentor show them how to interact with, and build trust with, clients. 

Showcase your collaborative management style 

Firms of your size have the opportunity to engage new talent in “hands on” work quickly and offer them more exposure to the firm’s leaders.  

What they want 

  • Gen Zers expect rapid advancement, but you can balance that out by offering new skill acquisition and giving them frequent feedback. 
  • They want to see how their work is contributing to the mission of the firm and be recognized for their achievements.  
  • Despite the stereotype, they prefer face-to-face communication, according to a survey by Yello, and want face time with their more experienced co-workers. 

What you can do 

  • Start or expand your formal or informal mentoring program. 
  • Find creative ways to reward them, such as giving extra time off for volunteer work that matters to them, starting a peer-to-peer recognition program, and spotlighting achievements in the office. 
  • Let Gen Z voices be heard—encourage them to offer input on company processes, customer service, marketing (especially social media) and technology improvements. 
  • Encourage their entrepreneurial streak—find ways to bring their ideas and capabilities to fruition. Include them in “innovation hub” type discussions and help them hone their problem-solving skills. 

Promote your values and community involvement 

Smaller accounting firms tend to have a culture centered around valuing employees, strong client relationships, and community involvement—a big draw for Gen Z. 

What they want 

  • The ACCA/IFAC study showed that Gen Z has a perception that companies are more concerned about maximizing returns for investors than prioritizing customer needs and taking care of their employees. Less than half agree that business leaders have integrity and do what they say.  
  • Even more than the millennials ahead of them, this generation puts a premium on purposefulness and social responsibility and wants to work for a company they’re proud of.  
  • Gen Z values authenticity and a company that listens to and values the opinions of its employees.  

What you can do 

  • Find ways to prove your positive culture and company values—tout your customer loyalty statistics and the work your firm has done for the community. 
  • Introduce them to local civic leaders and encourage them to volunteer for local charities they care about. 
  • Articulate what your firm stands for and what you’re doing to try to make a difference both within the field of accounting and in the services you deliver for clients. Help them see the critical role your services play in the larger context of the business world. 

 Your firm may not be able to offer Gen Z everything they want, like international travel or multiple career paths, but you can still create an environment where Gen Z accountants and bookkeepers want to work. Once you bring them on board, you’ll find that despite some of the negative press their generation gets, Gen Z employees can bring dedication, a fresh perspective, and a renewed energy to your firm and the profession of accountancy.  

Topics: Practice Management


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