AICPA recently polled accounting firms on how CPA candidates could increase their readiness for entering the marketplace by focusing on additional areas of education beyond the core competencies in courses such as intermediate accounting, managerial accounting, accounting information systems, audit, and taxation.
According to the poll, 99% of accounting firms cited data analysis, tools and techniques (e.g., Microsoft Excel, Power BI) as a valuable (either very valuable or somewhat valuable) skill/competency for new hires as they work to complete their 150-credit hour requirement for CPA licensure. As with the CPA Evolution firm demand survey in 2021, data analytics was a top needed skill cited by firms.
This notion is echoed by AICPA Vice President of Small Firms Carl Peterson. “Young professionals can accelerate their value by taking a deeper dive into the use of these tools while obtaining their additional credit hours,” he said. “Today, data analytics is perhaps the most important skill set for firms of the future.”
Accountants can use data analytics to help businesses bring to light valuable information within their financials, pinpoint process improvements that can help boost efficiency, and improve risk management. Accountants typically use four types of data analytics:
Descriptive analytics: Determining what’s happening. For example, reporting on cash flow through organizations, including revenue and expenses, inventory counts, and sales tax collected.
Diagnostic analytics: Determining why it’s happening. For example, examining variances and reviewing historical performance to help in forecasting.
Predictive analytics: Determining what will happen. For example, predicting future outcomes by recognizing patterns that can shape forecasts.
Prescriptive analytics: Determining what should happen. For example, forecasting to advise on future growth opportunities or sounding the alarm on potentially poor decision-making.
On par with data analysis, tools and techniques in the firm poll were soft skills, as 99% of firm respondents said that CPA candidates should extend their knowledge and understanding of skills such as time management and organization, communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, and public speaking.
“The need for ‘success skills’ … are equally important to CPAs in public accounting, as well as in business, industry, government and non-profits,” said AICPA Executive Vice President of Business Growth & Engagement Tom Hood.
Although these skills may not be as easy to teach, they can help further a new graduate hire’s career by making them more well-rounded. This was reflected in a 2020 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in which 97% of employers responded that soft skills were either as important or more important than hard skills. Further, collaboration, emotional intelligence, empathy, listening skills, and self-awareness are all interpersonal skills that can help a new hire succeed.
“Small firm owners have told me for years that students coming out of college today do not have the soft skills that would increase their value and result in early career success,” said Peterson. “Integrating firm experience with education focused on developing soft skills would result in staff retention and create higher value earlier in their career, while providing better client relationships and value to the firm.”
AICPA Vice President of Firm Services Lisa Simpson noted that the poll results provide important insight “into how firm leaders expect to see technology and data analysis-related skills become more embedded into the DNA of the modern firm.” She added that “there’s also a continued need for investment in the ‘human skills’ of leadership and communications because public accounting continues to be a people business.”
Advanced analytics (e.g., data mining and visualization, predictive analytics) ranked third for new graduate hires, with 87% of firms valuing that skill, followed by advanced taxation (e.g., passive loss limitations, gifting assets, consolidated returns) at 83%.
Other skills firms viewed as valuable for new graduate hires to complete their 30 hours requirement:
Technical research (83%)
Information security, confidentiality, and privacy (78%)
Information systems and data management (77%)
Advanced accounting (72%)
System and Organization Controls (SOC) engagements (55%)
Governmental accounting and auditing (52%)
Personal financial planning (48%)
Twenty-nine states were represented in the poll*, which was conducted in January 2023. AICPA received responses from 86 firms varying in size from 11 CPAs to 10,000.
*Not all respondents selected their state