Accounting is a growing profession in New Jersey, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. There were 36,050 accountants and auditors employed in New Jersey in 2004, the sixth-highest in the "High Skill Requirement Occupation" category, according to a DOL study. By 2014, the state agency predicts the number of accountants and auditors will rise to 41,500.
The demand is reflected in a mean annual wage of $67,160, well above the state's average per-capita income of $27,006. But trade organizations like the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants are worried about attracting enough new people to the industry to fill existing shortages, not to mention the void expected as the first wave of baby boomers begins to retire.
"We're reaching out to more college students by sponsoring career days and other events at our offices and elsewhere to get to know students better," says Carolyn D'Anna, a partner at Roseland-based J.H. Cohn LLP who is also the managing director of the firm's human resources department. "We're also active with some [accounting] state societies, and we even do some high school programs to educate teens about the accounting profession.
"Work-life balance is the biggest thing [when it comes to attracting people]," adds D'Anna. "Among other programs, we offer flexible work schedules to all our employees."
Just about every accounting firm is seeing a significant shortage of accounting graduates, says James C. Bourke Jr., a partner in the Red Bank headquarters of WithumSmith+Brown. Bourke says his organization is recruiting students at a younger age than ever before.
"For a long time, we and other firms would recruit college students when they were in their senior year," he says. "Now it's not unusual to start conversations with sophomores or even freshmen. We host pizza parties and other events at college campuses to get to know the students. By the time they graduate, a student with an accounting major will be likely to have a position sewn up."
Withum is also doing this.
"Generation X and Generation Y work differently than baby boomers do," says Bourke. "To accommodate that, we've made a big investment in technology to let them work on tax returns, financial statements and other projects from home. As long as they can be as productive off-site as on-site, the concept works."
Bourke is living his strategy. "I like to coach baseball and soccer, and I sometimes leave the office at 2:30 to catch the games," he says. "In the evening, after my kids have gone to bed, I connect to the office and wrap up the day's work."