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Supply and Demand are Up, but Certification is Waning. What to Do?

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As you may know, every two years, the AICPA publishes a Trends Report outlining the latest hiring trends in the accounting profession. In the 2013 edition, the report indicates “very positive signs on both the supply and the demand side of the equation,” which is great news for everyone, including your students. Other reports, though, indicate that although more people are entering the accounting profession, fewer are getting certified as CPAs. We think this pair of trends is something you and your students ought to know a little more about.

The numbers in the Trends Report showed conclusively that accounting enrollments and degrees are being awarded at all-time highs, indicating very strong interest in accounting as a career. Equally encouraging is that hiring by public accounting firms is also at an all-time high, meaning all those aspiring students have a pretty favorable set of job prospects to look forward to. In fact, hiring demand has surpassed its previous all-time high, set in 2006-2007, and in 2013 that demand reflected 40,350 new accounting graduates hired by CPA firms.

You can also tell your students – and be backed by the Institute of Internal Auditors as you do so – that the people hiring in the internal audit departments are looking to hire even more. More than 40% of those departments said they plan to increase their spending, and half plan to maintain their current levels.

But while the numbers of accounting degrees and accounting grads hired are both up, the number of CPA certifications being awarded is down. This could mean that while accountant-hopefuls see the industry as a great one to get into, they don’t fully understand the benefits of taking the extra step to become a CPA. We can fix this.

Sure, whatever an aspiring CPA may have heard about the grueling nature of the CPA Exam is true. But on the other side of that exam, the career benefits will more than make up for the 18-month window of stress.

Let’s start with the one that will grab your students’ attention the most: money. That’s right – CPAs make 10-15% more than non-CPAs for the same accounting job. Other studies have shown the gap as high as 41% between the certified and uncertified. Why? Because CPAs come with a virtual guarantee (from being licensed by their state) that they have the education, ethics, experience and exam under their belts to back up their work. Students should know that CPAs can charge and earn more for their services because they are bound to high work standards, ethics and professionalism.

Another solid reason for your accounting-inclined students to become CPAs is the additional job security, especially because they can do things that non-CPAs simply don’t have the legal authority to do. Plus, being licensed makes it easier to climb the corporate ladder to CFO or go in any direction they want and do something completely different. And with many current CPAs reaching retirement, the firms and companies they work for are looking to fill their shoes with – not surprisingly – other CPAs.

Respect. Prestige. Clout. Whatever you want to call it, it’s yet another benefit to holding a CPA designation. In a group of accountants, those with their CPA automatically stand out. And, like other post-name letters, such as Ph.D. or M.D., CPA has a certain air of impressiveness to it. In fact, CPAs are now considered the most trusted advisors in business.

So the next time your students show any interest or aptitude in accounting, make sure they understand not only that the accounting profession is a great choice offering lots of benefits, but also that the CPA designation offers all of that – and then some.