Accounting Apprenticeship: An Old School Solution to a Modern Workforce Problem


The accounting profession is experiencing a workforce shortage of epic proportions, the effects of which are cascading. Accounting firms are massively understaffed, which is leading to all sorts of problems, in personal lives, for businesses, and even on Wall Street.

Risk of Burnout and Mistakes Running Rampant

Demand for accounting services is as high as ever but there simply aren’t enough people in the various accounting roles required to deliver the work. Accountants, CPAs, transaction specialists, and support staff are running on empty. They are overworked, stressed, and the risk of burnout is high. 

This, of course, leads to more people leaving the profession, making the shortage problem even worse. Smaller businesses are even getting “let go” by their accounting providers, who cite lack of capacity to serve clients under a certain retainer threshold. 

Accuracy is a foundational principle of accounting, but when overwhelmed professionals are carrying a workload that is simply too great to manage, mistakes happen. This impacts the businesses these accounting firms serve, of course. You can’t make sound decisions if you don’t have sound financials. 

But the problem extends into the economy itself, too. Lyft made headlines when a typo in their quarterly earnings report sent their stock price soaring…quickly followed by a major drop when they issued a correction. And they are not alone, by far. Other major corporations like Planet Fitness, Mister Car Wash, and Rivian Automotive have all had to correct their quarterly earnings statements recently. Investor confidence is shaky when things like this happen.

Fewer and Fewer Students are Choosing Accounting

How’d we get to this great big gap that is causing so many problems anyway? The shortage exists because fewer and fewer college students are choosing accounting. The reasons for this are, naturally, kinda complicated but one of the main problems comes down to, irony of ironies, finances.

College tuition is expensive and getting more so all the time. If a student wants to become a CPA, that requires five years of college instead of four. That extra year not only means an extra year of tuition and related expenses, it also means students have to forego earning an income (and starting to pay off all that student loan debt!) for an extra year, too. 

On top of that, starting salaries in accounting are stagnant and fall short of what a fresh grad could pull in another field like tech or banking. When a student is looking at their options, it’s easy to see how accounting loses its appeal.

So, what, you ask, does this have to do with apprenticeship? And is apprenticeship really still a thing? Are we talking about modern professionals here, or Ye Old Blacksmiths?

Apprenticeship is a solid solution to start closing the gap in the accounting workforce, keep people in the profession, and deliver accounting services to businesses of all sizes. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) recognizes it as such, and I bought into the idea full on after learning about what the US Department of Labor is working on in regard to apprenticeship. 

Modern Apprenticeship Really Works

I attend, sit on panels, and speak at lots of conferences. I talk a ton about the value of face time with people in your profession and with your clients. Conferences are one of those opportunities where you can simply get more out of the experience because you’re in person. 

I was at one such conference and learned about an apprenticeship program the US Department of Labor was working on in recognition of the realities of labor displacement in the blue collar realm versus the white collar realm. This is a demographic trend having much to do with people going back to work in a second or third career and the controversy of the cost of education. 

Now, I get it. Apprenticeship harkens back to the old days of blacksmiths or haberdashers but that is really just a perception problem. (Something else I talk about a great deal…changing the narrative around outdated ideas, especially in accounting.) Europeans have always had an apprenticeship model and never let go of this type of development for people entering the workforce. We have some problems in America and this is one of them. 

What is happening with accounting apprenticeship is a modernized version and it REALLY WORKS! We need to get this old school image out of our heads and recognize the inherent value apprenticeship delivers. Lifelong learning, career development over time, support and growth opportunities from your employer…these are all not only rewarding and fulfilling, they are highly sought after by people entering the workforce today. And apprenticeship offers all of that and more!

When I learned about AICPA’s Professional Apprenticeship for Finance Business Partners program, I jumped at the opportunity. Not everyone in my field is doing this, but KBS CFO is and we are going big! My firm is quite small compared to other participating organizations and I have five apprentices! 

That’s how strongly I believe this will be game changing for our industry and career changing for those coming into accounting. And it’s worth mentioning, when I have an opening in my firm, the fact that I believe in this model helps me recruit better talent and keep them, which of course benefits my firm and my clients directly.

If you are an accountant or CPA, consider joining me and getting an apprentice of your own. If you are going to become an accountant or CPA, consider becoming one! And if you can’t go all in like I have, help change the narrative so we can do more good for our industry and the clients we serve.