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Practice Management

Investing in learning and development to better retain tax & accounting professionals

Natalie Runyon  Director of Enterprise Content and Talent, Culture & Inclusion Strategist in Market Insights for the Thomson Reuters Institute

Natalie Runyon  Director of Enterprise Content and Talent, Culture & Inclusion Strategist in Market Insights for the Thomson Reuters Institute

The recruitment and development of top talent, especially around technological expertise, has become a top concern for many firm leaders in the tax & accounting industry

The number one concern of many tax & accounting firm leaders is talent recruitment and development, according to the new Tax Professionals Survey 2022, released earlier this year by Thomson Reuters Institute. In fact, one-third of the firms with more than four employees that responded to the survey indicated that the search for and development of quality talent was their top priority in the coming year.

Further, learning and development also was seen as a key concern for non-owner firm managers and solo proprietors; and indeed, in the über-competitive labor market, development of existing employees’ skills is a critical way to retain talent.

In the survey, hiring managers indicated that the two most-in-demand skills were technical acumen and tax expertise, and this also is in line with what survey respondents indicated was a top skill for tax advisors. Moreover, this was supported by firms with more than 30 employees, which indicated that they had planned to increase headcount on average by almost seven new employees.

After technology skills — which include enterprise resource planning systems and data analysis — and staying current with changes in the tax code, communication skills (both oral and written) was highlighted as the third most in-demand skill. Perhaps not surprisingly, these same skills were also highlighted as top skill gaps in a Thomson Reuters’ study published in November, Indirect Tax: More than just a process, which looked at corporate tax departments’ indirect tax teams. This study too identified the magnitude of the need to address these skills gaps.

In an environment where tax & accounting firm executives are dealing with intense competition to gain new clients and keep existing customers satisfied (in addition to the employees that serve them), this latest report suggests some areas these investment in employee learning and development might offer the best options to retain accounting professionals.

Start with data

Graduates with accounting degrees have a massive opportunity in recording, generating, and auditing financial data to help companies think about how they can harness the power of data to actually make better strategic decisions. Technology has enabled accounting professionals to make predictions based on this data, rather than simply just processing data, and there is no doubt that data analysis and especially predictive analysis will continue to be needed to transform tax & accounting practices.

Luckily, there are a number of options firms and individual tax professionals can turn to today to help acquire or hone this skill set with an understanding of basic concepts to more advanced data visualization. Similarly, many colleges are building out courses and making curricular innovations to tackle the data analysis skills gap. For example, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign created an online Master’s in Accounting that includes data analytics and concentration at its core. In addition, the school is addressing this gap by building out its own program with the establishment of its own data analytics center with support from Deloitte. The main goal of the center is to create analytics content, cases, and webinars that are freely available to anyone and available for other schools to adopt.

For professionals who prefer to take a course or two themselves, firm leaders can distill a menu of offerings from online learning platforms. Coursera, which is an open platform offering online courses, certifications, and degrees in a variety of subjects, has at least nine courses on accounting-related data analytics programs. Another platform, Udemy, offers a program called Introduction to Data Analytics for Accountants.

Creative ways to enhance communication skills

In addition to academic offerings that could address data analysis and technology skill gaps, there are many other multifaceted ways to improve communication skills competencies, including writing effectively and persuasively, speaking, leading meetings effectively, using persuasion and influence, among others. To address the scope of communications skills, a variety of methods come in many of formats, including self-study, in-person and virtual learning that will allow a practitioner to improve in this skill area. For employees who prefer exclusively online, asynchronous learning formats, the firm can contract with numerous platforms, such as LinkedIn Learning, to enable their employees to gain access to online communications courses.

Tax & accounting firm leaders can also seek out more individualized offerings as well through custom coaching and small-group learning that can enhance the skills of existing employees. Firms can then also use these initiatives to attract new talent. Indeed, these communications skills are critical to leadership development, and this area is always foundational in any leadership program. Many of these programs include both in-person and virtual attendance options combined with live and recorded formats. For example, ConvergenceCoaching, which specializes in the accounting industry, offers a leadership development program for future leaders.

One other option is that firms could retain an internal coach that could enable personal and professional development in an individualized way for employees. This coaching modality typically uses a strengths-based approach as the foundation and allows the coachees to explore communication options of their own individual styles that is more authentic to them. Again, once any of these options are rolled out for existing employees, they can be used to as added incentives for new recruits to the firm.

The vast amount of options available for tax & accounting firms to increase learning and development of the most in-demand skills for new and existing employees is not hard. Like anything new, however, it does require that leaders assess the needs of the firm through gauging employee feedback and taking initiative to research, identify, and examine the offerings that best fit the requirements of the firm.

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