Accounting tries going green to attract younger talent

As younger workers report wanting purpose-driven careers, accountants see green accounting as a problem they could solve.
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As the accounting field faces a decline in applicants, the industry is trying to figure out ways to appeal to a younger demographic. And some experts tell CFO Brew green accounting could be a possible solution to the industry’s talent problem.

“There’s been significant challenges in attracting the next generation pool of talent,” Shari Littan, director of corporate reporting research and policy at the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), told CFO Brew. Students coming up today have expressed the desire for purpose-driven careers, Littan added, an observation borne out by study after study on what makes Gen Z tick.

According to a survey released in February 2022 from recruiting platform Lever, 42% of Gen Z—those born between 1995 and 2012—say they would rather be at a company that gives them a sense of purpose than one that pays more. Gen Z also wants to work for companies that are taking action and will leave a company if it isn’t willing to be part of the change.

The accounting profession has taken a hit over the past few decades to keep applicants interested, as fields like FP&A have grown in importance. Over the past decade or so, the number of students who earned bachelor’s degrees in accounting has declined by nearly 9%, dropping from 57,500 in 2012 to 52,500 in 2020. The Journal of Accountancy has taken to writing pieces on how academics can keep students interested and other publications are noting that companies are facing slimmer staff numbers.

Getting students interested in tackling the climate crisis through carbon and green accounting could solve a critical issue for the accounting field and appeal to younger workers’ professional goals, Littan said.

The Chartered Financial Association (CFA) has begun offering ESG certificates that train finance professionals on the basics. The American Accounting Association has begun hosting conferences that help accountants wrap their heads around the emerging field. The Corporate Finance Institute and GHG institute now have courses to certify and train people in green accounting principles.

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One concern that may have shifted potential employees away from the accounting profession is the fear of automation. Going through an advanced accounting degree, sitting for board tests, and then having one’s job automated doesn’t necessarily sound like a wise investment. It’s a valid concern; Gartner found in a February survey that more than 40% of finance roles will be reshaped—with some entirely new positions being created and others being lost due to technology—between now and 2025.

And executives do report that they will be investing in sustainability reporting tools; 99% of 300 public company executives surveyed by Deloitte in December said they were somewhat likely or very likely to invest in more technologies and tools over the next 12 months.

However, that’s not to say that the field doesn’t need humans making decisions, Littan told CFO Brew. Since the green accounting field is newer, people will be needed to make decisions on how the frameworks are adopted to individual companies, she noted. The number crunching may be replaced, but the decision on how to categorize green activities will still be falling to clever green accountants.

“Accounting has always been considered the language of business,” Littan said, “so if you want to become a change agent of business, it’s incredibly helpful to learn to speak a language and to phrase what you want to accomplish in a way that is engaging.” —KT

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CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.