The finance function is a key part of business strategy, but many professionals don’t learn the skills needed to develop strategy, inform decision making, or communicate with influence. “Accountant” remains one of the hardest jobs for employers to fill, and 50 percent of finance executives can’t find staff with the right skills. This talent gap is, in fact, a crisis.

This “Competency Crisis” has gone unsolved for decades, and it’s affecting businesses’ operations potential for future growth. The problem has been studied at length by academics and professional accounting organizations. A variety of factors, including a narrowly focused accounting curriculum and lack of on-the-job training, are part of the problem, but clearly, there is no silver bullet that will make accounting and finance professionals excel at a global level.

 

What’s Missing?

So how do we ensure management accountants are armed with all the critical skills needed to provide maximum value to businesses? The roles of today’s accounting professionals are being reinvented, requiring new skills far beyond audit, tax and compliance competencies. Accounting and finance professionals now need analytical thinking, problem solving and communication skills—not to mention a diverse technical skill set that includes knowledge of IT.

Unfortunately, on a widespread basis, the undergraduate accounting curriculum at many colleges and universities doesn’t prepare students with that broader group of competencies needed for long-term careers in business. And as classroom lessons remain unaligned with on-the-job demands, the gap widens, hurting companies through lowered performance, poor decisions and higher personnel costs.

Alarmingly, even experienced practitioners often lack the necessary business strategy expertise to take on higher-level finance roles; entry-level workers are even more ill equipped. As top-level finance professionals retire, we’re losing precious talent and skills that aren’t being replaced. We have to catch up.

 

People Are Finally Getting Together

To find and implement solutions, we need participation on a mass scale—a gathering of all the stakeholders: professionals, employers, students and academics—to talk, without finger-pointing, about how we can improve. Professionals and employers must take steps toward a solution by proactively connecting with colleges, networking and seeking appropriate training and continuing education programs. And students and academics need to connect on the current needs of businesses, as well as find available internships and apprenticeships. We will find the key to solving this problem by communicating and learning from each other.

The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) is tackling this issue head on and just launched a community called CompetencyCrisis.org to ignite awareness and rally the accounting community to close the skills gap. Together, through forums and discussion, the campaign is creating a movement toward lasting solutions that will benefit everyone involved with the accounting and finance profession.

This community, like the success of the profession, depends on everyone’s input, insights and ideas for solutions. Aligning these stakeholder groups and creating uniform expectations for accounting training and development is vital to the success of business, the protection of shareholders and the promotion of successful long-term careers.

 

David Elrod, CMA, CPA, is a financial director at Microsoft Corp. and dean of the IMA (Institute of Management Accountants) Leadership Academy, which strives to enhance leadership skills and recognize leadership achievements among IMA members.