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Lots of Quitters and Worrying about the CPA

Caleb Newquist Editor-at-Large, Gusto 
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June 17, 2021

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You may have heard, but lots of people are quitting their jobs. Four million people in April alone. There are a multitude of reasons for this, but there’s one that I’m finding most interesting: The job sucks. If the commute is long, or the pay is meager, or health insurance is skimpy, people are deciding that it isn’t worth the trouble.  

A recent Wall Street Journal article has a prime example:

In March 2020, Edward Moses was hired as an information-technology specialist at a software company, believing he would be part of a team supporting colleagues in four U.S. offices. Instead, after a round of layoffs, he found the team had one member, and he was it. “It was effectively me against the help-desk queue,” the 37-year-old said.

Ah, yes. The ol’ “you’ll be working on a great team that will soon be non-existent” bait and switch. The tickets just keep coming, and your co-workers keep going. I love that one. It really starts getting good when the employer tries to appease:

The days were stressful, he said, with few opportunities for promotion. A 5% raise after a strong performance evaluation didn’t quell his frustration. 

One thing I think many employers and/or managers sometimes fail to understand is that no amount of money will fix a compounding problem. In other words, the company could’ve given Edward Moses a 50% raise, and it would not have solved the “me against the help-desk queue” problem. He was in a hopeless situation with no end in sight. When someone throws money at you in those kinds of circumstances, it’s insulting. The attitude basically is: You can be bought. Sure, this job may be never-ending, thankless, and soul-crushing, but you’ll keep doing it if we pay you more. 

Except: Nope!

This spring, Mr. Moses gave notice and started a new job—and career path—as a technical writer at electronic-signature company DocuSign Inc.

“It feels wonderful to take my staunch love for proper grammar and make it into a job,” said Mr. Moses, who has a master’s degree in education.

We talked last week about advising employers in this tight labor market. Letting your clients know when paying more money—which is a popular remedy right now—might not be the right move seems to fall in that bucket of services. Not only will the likes of Amazon outbid them every time, money also may not be the real issue. 

The real problem to solve is creating businesses that employees never want to leave, or at least would have a hard time leaving. That also means creating jobs that don’t suck, and don’t suffocate the workers. Businesses that continue to do so will likely get the employees they deserve: none.

CPAs are worried about the future of the CPA

Last time we talked about CPAs worrying about the CPA, it was in the context of auditing being the only service that actually requires a CPA designation. Tax work doesn’t require it. Advisory (née consulting) doesn’t require it. 

But auditing is headed in an interesting direction. As I noted at the time:

If audit teams of the future are packed with AI engineers and technologists, will they need to be CPAs? Will AI engineers and technologists want to be CPAs?

I still don’t know if AI engineers want to be CPAs, but that’s not especially important for the latest round of CPAs worrying about the CPA. The Illinois CPA Society recently issued a new worrying report that follows up their previous worrying report:

“A stagnating CPA pipeline is a threat. It’s an issue that will only get worse and grow more troubling without action.” We delivered that warning in our 2016 Insight Special Feature, “Pipeline Disruption: The Search for Solutions to the Weakening Supply of CPAs.” Five years later the issue has, in fact, grown worse and more troubling.

How much worse and more troubling? An Accounting Today article notes: 

While an overwhelming majority of the survey’s respondents (88%) identified themselves as either being a CPA, in the process of becoming a CPA, or planning on becoming a CPA, those who said they were not actively pursuing CPA licensure gave, in part, the growing reason that they do not see the credential as vital to their professional lives.

Oddly enough, the Illinois CPA report found that the most frequently cited reason for those who began pursuing CPA but did not finish was… “workload time commitment.” If you assume that many people pursuing the CPA work in CPA firms, then that’s a heavy dose of irony that we all can enjoy. For those who didn’t pursue the CPA and have no plans to, the most common reason was “wants other credentials.” In other words, the CPA designation’s competition! 

The classic worry that many CPAs have had is that the CPA is becoming less relevant, and therefore, fewer accounting students and young professionals will earn it. But that seems a bit overblown, especially when you compare it to: “I didn’t get a CPA because I had too much work to do.”  

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Updated: June 18, 2021

Caleb Newquist
Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.

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