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As tax season approaches, accounting firms are short on staff

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A Tax Return form 1040 with USA America flag and dollar banknote lays on a table with a pen on top of it.

"Nobody thinks about the accountants," said Adrienne Gonzales, editor for the accounting blog "Going Concern." "They think about the accountants on April 15 when taxes are due. But there’s this whole network that is the engine of the economy." Sasirin Pamai/Getty

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Putting off finding an accountant right now may not be the best move.

Accounting firms are facing a significant staffing shortage — and not just of tax accountants. They’re also short on accountants who do financial planning and auditing of the books and all the other tasks accountants take on.

That’s in part due to a pandemic exodus from the profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 300,000 accountants and auditors quit their jobs in the last two years. 

So accounting has a pipeline problem, maybe even a branding problem. So far this tax season, PricewaterhouseCoopers has enough accountants to keep up. However, Rod Adams, head of talent acquisition, says finding them was harder than ever. 

“It’s a concern. It’s absolutely a concern,” Adams said.

Even for a massive company with many recruitment resources. Smaller accounting firms, like Mandy Irwin’s company in Chico, California, are having to turn away business. 

“Last year we did have to let go of about 200 clients because we haven’t been able to find the staff,” Irwin said.

The shortage of all kinds of accountants isn’t likely to get resolved soon. Ben Lansford, an accounting professor at Rice University, says graduating students who might have pursued accounting a decade ago are now going into investment banking, data analysis and consulting.

“Those jobs pay more and also don’t require the fifth year of college education,” Lansford said.

That fifth year is needed to get a CPA license. Plus, those other professions are seen as more prestigious and more enjoyable.

“It’s kind of a PR problem,” said Adrienne Gonzales. She edits the accounting blog Going Concern. “There is that huge stereotype about how boring accounting is.”

If the industry wants to compete, Gonzales said it needs to raise salaries and work on its reputation. 

“Nobody thinks about the accountants,” Gonzales said. “They think about the accountants on April 15 when taxes are due. But there’s this whole network that is the engine of the economy.”

An engine that without the spark of a new generation of accountants, could start to break down. 

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