A Crisis of Competency

toolboxCongratulations. You’ve graduated from a distinguished college. You’re filled with a sense of accomplishment and confidence from what you’ve learned, and now you’re ready to head full steam into your first job. Everything seems to be following the path you’ve laid out for yourself, and yet for most of the people like you, the next three to five years of your life are about to drastically change.

The majority of accounting and finance college graduates will change careers three to five years after they graduate, landing jobs in managerial accounting whether or not they started there. This leaves a lot of young professionals feeling overwhelmed and underprepared as they realize what they learned in school doesn’t adequately match up to the skills they need on the job.

And new job seekers aren’t the only ones who are seeing this skills gap. Stagnant curricula coupled with expanding professional roles and increasing global competitiveness are why, according to Accenture, more than 50% of finance executives are finding it hard to hire accounting and financial professionals with the skills they need to succeed. At the same time, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the number of new accounting jobs in the United States will grow by 13% from 2012 to 2022, and baby boomers will retire without a qualified workforce to replace them.

The situation, in fact, is a competency crisis.


How can we fix this?

We all play a part: schools, companies, and individuals.

It’s important that schools prepare their students for whatever their future careers will be—to train students not just for their first job but for their life-long careers. Schools that have curricula mostly oriented toward public accounting need to broaden their course offerings to encompass the broader range of competencies their students will need.

Educators can make use of more real-life case studies, such as those found in the IMA Educational Case Journal. Case studies that are rich in detail can illustrate current problems and complexities characteristic of today’s dynamic business environment.

Companies need to be more proactive in reaching out to schools to let them know what skills are lacking in the graduates they hire. Also, companies should consider setting up training programs for new and seasoned staff to make sure all are up-to-date with the most relevant information.

Individuals also need to do their part. If you find that your skills are lacking in a certain area, either see if your company will assist in accessing proper training or go outside of your organization so that you can obtain the skills necessary to advance your career.

The above suggestions aren’t the only answers. Dialogue is needed between the profession’s various stakeholders to collaborate and find grassroots solutions. It is only by all parties working together that we can overcome this competency crisis.

Written by Dr. Raef Lawson, CMA, CPA, CFP, CFA

Follow me on Twitter @RaefLawson

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Why Accounting And Finance Pros Are So Difficult To Hire

Mind the Accounting Talent Gap: Q-and-A with Former Special Olympics CFO

Sharpening the Saw: Reflections on International Women’s Day, Part 1

Like many IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) members, I first joined the 3.7.14_International-Women's-Day-Graphic-FB_2organization to earn the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant)  certification. After becoming a CMA, however, the main reason why I stayed active in IMA was to further my own career as a businesswoman and, at the same time, encourage other women to do the same. Even now, in my current position as IMA’s director of European operations, I see it as my duty to communicate the importance of networking and personal development, especially to younger women just starting their careers. As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, it seems fitting to take a moment to share my reflections on how IMA can help women in finance.

When I was a young finance professional, I was completely unaware of the importance of networking.  A male colleague, who started at the company the same time as me, was promoted despite the fact that I had put in more hours. He regularly visited me in my office to ask why I didn’t go out to lunch more with the team instead of working through lunch at my desk. I finally understood the importance of networking after seeing this colleague in action, solving an interdepartmental problem with his network of friends and supporters.

Cutting edgeAnother pivotal moment in my personal development was reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. “Sharpening the saw,” or preserving and enhancing yourself with a holistic lifestyle and continuous learning, stuck with me the most. Women, especially, are so giving of themselves that sometimes we neglect our own well-being. Especially for working women who are also mothers, it can be impossible to even think about “sharpening the saw” at the end of a busy day.

When I encountered IMA, I realized it could help me improve both my networking and finance skills. In addition, by offering members access to free or inexpensive continuous professional education opportunities, IMA supports women in their efforts to “sharpen the saw.” Professional organizations, like IMA, encourage networking and professional development for women to succeed in business.

How do you build your network and in what ways have you “sharpened the saw”?

Written by Nina Michels-Kim, CMA

Follow me on Twitter: @NinaMichelsKim