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The War for Technical Accounting Talent

Frustrated with the ongoing struggle to find specialized accounting talent? Learn more about “flexible staffing” options, a rare win-win for employers and employees.

September 4, 2008
Sponsored by The Mergis Group

by Jack Causa, CPA, senior vice president and group executive, The Mergis Group

Veterans of the corporate finance world can attest that the regulatory environment has changed more dramatically in the past five years than it did in the previous five decades. The nature and level of detail that is now required in financial reporting by U.S. corporations has spawned a cottage industry of audit specialists, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance consultants and various corporate finance controls experts.

For employers of accounting professionals, this has also created a rather sizable shift in the kind of accounting talent that is in particularly high demand. The technical aspects of accounting, including high-level corporate finance assessment and reporting, have become more important than ever in the current regulatory environment.

This year, we have seen our clients aggressively waging a war for technical accounting talent, particularly as it relates to recently enacted regulatory issues: International Financial Reporting Standards that are now required by more than 75 countries; FAS 133, which regulates accounting for hedging and derivatives; and FAS 123, which governs options and other equity-based compensation.

Of course, this news is on top of the reality that the labor market is already tight for accounting professionals. For example, one recent survey found that the category of “financial and accounting” professionals has moved up to number six on the list of the 10 hardest jobs to fill, up from the number eight position just last year. The most recent quarterly edition of the 2008 Mergis Accounting & Finance Employment Report (PDF) found that one-third of accounting professionals are likely to look for a new job in the next 12 months, making retention a key concern. And while the national unemployment rate continues to creep up toward six percent, the unemployment rate for accountants and auditors remains below two percent.

With this talent war unlikely to abate any time soon, employers may consider exploring a creative solution for securing the talent and expertise they need without absorbing the substantial costs that can be associated with recruitment, employee compensation/benefits and retention.

Many companies today are turning to “interim” professionals to fill personnel gaps and in some cases are hiring these individuals as full-time staff members. This flexible staffing option allows companies to bring in highly skilled accounting and finance professionals on an as-needed basis to meet their technical corporate finance reporting requirements, without the commitment and expense of finding full-time employees to fill those crucial jobs and then being forced to absorb those costs even as workload fluctuates.

Moreover, this flexible staffing option also improves the likelihood that a specific individual is a match for the company before the firm extends an employment offer. Employers can essentially minimize their productivity losses, observe a prospective employee's job performance firsthand and then make a well-informed decision should they choose to extend an employment offer to the corporate finance professional they feel they need to join their team on a permanent basis.

Consider the benefit of this approach from the point of view of the workers as well. For accounting and finance professionals, “interim” assignments provide them with an opportunity to gain exposure to a variety of work environments and showcase their skills. In the process, they also can determine their own level of interest in a company and potentially secure an internal position if they feel they have found an organization that presents a good fit for them.

So in many cases, flexible staffing can be that elusive “win-win” solution for both parties: a sound business strategy for employers who need skilled accounting professionals with technical corporate finance experience without investing in an all-out talent war for full-time hires; and an attractive career option for individuals who are in the job market and want to get a foot in the door with an organization without making that full plunge into their workforce.

The war for technical accounting talent is picking up steam in spite of a sluggish economy and there are no signs that this shortage of qualified workers is about to change. Employers would do well to explore all of their options for how to meet their needs for this specialized talent, including creative solutions such as flexible staffing.

For more information, visit The Mergis Group.

Jack Causa, CPA, is Senior Vice President and Group Executive at The Mergis Group. Causa is responsible for the management and operations of The Mergis Group, a division of Spherion that provides specialty professional recruiting and placement services across a range of professional disciplines, including finance and accounting, information technology, engineering, sales and marketing, legal and human resources. Causa has more than 25 years of experience in the professional recruiting industry and joins Spherion from Callaway Partners, a professional services firm, where he served as the partner responsible for the company's staff augmentation business. Prior to that position, Causa held leadership roles at Jefferson Wells, where he was a managing director and Kforce, where he was president of finance and accounting. He began his career at PricewaterhouseCoopers.