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INCPAS outlines 3 strategies to grow talent pipeline in colleges and universities

The Indiana CPA Society outlined three strategies to remove barriers for aspiring CPAs and help them make an impact in the profession, all while navigating a challenging marketplace. 

In 2021, the organization had already suggested three strategies to grow the talent pipeline in high schools, which included launching new high school memberships and increasing DEI efforts. Since then, 100 new members have joined the INCPAS, and many have shared impact statements on social media. 

“There is no silver bullet when it comes to creating and sustaining a strong CPA talent pipeline,” said Courtney Kincaid, INCPAS president and CEO, in a statement. “If we’re going to move the needle, the profession needs sensible solutions at every step in the CPA journey. From high school to licensure, INCPAS seeks to provide real-world solutions along with a healthy dose of encouragement — this is a wonderful, fulfilling profession.”

1. Make the CPA exam more accessible

In April 2021, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed a new bill allowing students to sit for the CPA exam with 120 credit hours instead of the standard 150. The new rule, which took effect on Nov. 2, results from the extensive efforts from the INCPAS to make the CPA exam more intuitive and accessible for candidates, especially those from underrepresented communities. Furthermore, the CPA exam will no longer have testing windows, which will allow continuous testing and new attempts on failed sections

According to the 2021 AICPA Trends Report, the logistical issues that students face when studying for the CPA exam are among the reasons the talent pipeline keeps shrinking. The report found that the constraints of sitting for the exam in limited time frames, which have been worsened by capacity restrictions during COVID-19 lockdowns, are also at fault. For Malayna Pottschmidt, a former INCPAS Scholar who plans on taking the exam next summer, this rule change has come as a great relief. 

“Without that rule, I would have been one credit short to take the CPA exam and I wouldn’t have been able to benefit from the CPA preparation class,” said Pottschmidt. “I think this rule change is very important because Indiana was much less competitive than other states. The 150-credit requirement hurts firms and private companies trying to hire CPAs, but also students. Many abandon halfway, because they realize they can’t handle the workload of tax seasons with the weight of studying, and that’s why it was so important for me to take the exam before I worked full-time.”

2. Supporting the education of aspiring accountants

The Indiana CPA Educational Foundation scholarship program provides financial assistance to INCPAS members who are pursuing a major in accounting and wish to become CPAs. The $1,000-$2,000 scholarship is renewable for up to $5,000 per recipient and currently, eight aspiring CPAs in Indiana are receiving a total of $13,000 for this program year. Three of them are graduates from INCPAS Scholars, a year-long career awareness and mentoring program for high schoolers, which entered its 10th year in 2021. 

Kincaid explains that the Educational Foundation was originally funded by donations from organizations or members, and that such funds were managed by external entities in Indiana. However, the INCPAS soon observed that all scholarship recipients didn’t manage to go to college or achieve their professional goals, and the organization soon decided to change its strategy. Now, the group solicits a $5,000 sponsorship from employers, which Kincaid believes shows the organizations’ commitment to providing mentorship to students, and the INCPAS onboarded four new additions this year. 

“As professionals, we’re looking to talk to students earlier and earlier in their journey, and it’s a really long game,” said Kincaid. “That’s why the INCPAS Scholars program was created, and I believe it’s a strategic priority for society. A lot of students who participate are first-generation students, and many of them end up doing internships or going to companies that mentored them in high school. I’m proud of our staff and vice-president who created our program, because she fosters real relationships, not transactions.”

Kincaid says the INCPAS Scholar program is part of the organization’s efforts toward diversity to expose ethnic minorities and low-income individuals to accounting careers. INCPAS Scholars receive professional attire, learn how to conduct a business deal during dinner, and even get the opportunity to visit accounting and corporate finance firms to learn more about the profession. Mentors also invite the participants’ parents to explain what it means to go to college. Kincaid said a majority of students remain in contact with their INCPAS instructors.

Upon the completion of the program, students receive a scholarship and can join an alumni group, which regularly organizes studying sessions for the CPA exam or sets up networking events. Since most of them are minority professionals, Kincaid says it’s also a chance to create a support network for one another. 

“This generation puts value in giving back to the community, and we want to highlight how becoming a CPA gives you a new business language that can help them achieve their goals,” said Kincaid. “They are interested in entrepreneurship, and we help them understand what it means and what services they can provide. We always try to address people’s concerns, and this program is dedicated to creating real ties.”

3. Networking opportunities

After a brief halt caused by the pandemic, the INCPAS Meet the Profession Night will come back in January to provide high school and college students and INCPAS Scholars the opportunity to network with member organizations. The event distinguishes itself from traditional career fairs because attendees are encouraged to engage on a deeper level, not only relying on booths or resources prepared in advance. 

While the talent shortage remains an issue, Kincaid says that employers are now looking for completely different profiles. The importance of critical thinking and problem-solving skills are more important than ever, and firms now expect a high level of technological literacy. As the role of CPAs increasingly moves from compliance to advisory, the required skills change as well, and Kincaid says the INCPAS is looking to close those knowledge gaps in schools and universities. 

“Students need to make sure the employer is the right fit for them, and that a company’s values align with what’s important for them,” said Kincaid. “No matter how successful our programs are, there are still fewer people in the profession. I think aspiring accountants are in a very great spot right now because employers are really trying to sell themselves to the declining number of talents.” 

The INCPAS also released an Employer Guide, which is an annual publication shared with members, students and educators to ensure it reaches diverse audiences statewide. The document contains the most current CPA exam information, study tips, advice from current CPAs, networking events, and internship and job leads from Indiana-based organizations looking for new hires.
 

What students think

Currently pursuing a master’s degree in professional accounting at Butler University while working as an intern for Top Five firm RSM, Pottschmidt is a multitasker. She remembers working 80 hours a week and taking night shifts to get herself through school, but  Pottschmidt said she couldn’t have displayed such determination without the support of the INCPAS Scholars program. 

While she was a high school junior, Pottschmidt was introduced to local CPAs via the Indiana CPA Society Scholars program, and she discovered that she could put her passion for investigation and problem-solving to good use. Pottschmidt attributes her success to the program, which she said provided her with resources and opportunities that participants don’t normally have access to. For example, Pottschmidt obtained an internship at Eli Lilly & Co. and got valuable knowledge about branding and business. 

“The INCPAS is passionate about people getting into the profession, and I think they realize how many doors accounting can open for students,” said Pottschmidt. “Especially [INCPAS vice president of pipeline and outreach] Ali Paul, because her passion and care for students is incredible, and I have no words for her dedication. The INCPAS don’t only talk about DEI or have a beautiful write-up on their website, they actually have a plan.”

Malayna

To grow the talent pipeline in high schools, Pottschmidt believes there should be an implementation of nationwide programs to help students identify their interests. She says that conducting assessments or leading career orientation classes could allow students to see beyond the accounting stereotypes. Pottschmidt adds that a lot of them won’t even look for these opportunities on their own unless they need a scholarship, and she herself only heard about INCPAS thanks to word of mouth. 

In five years, Pottschmidt hopes to get a promotion and become a manager to continue growing in the industry. She enjoys the idea of leading a team, sharing her knowledge and gaining more client-facing experience. Set to join RSM full-time as a tax associate at the end of her internship, Pottschmidt hopes to eventually become a CFO or a partner. With her high school dream of becoming a journalist behind her, Pottschmidt now is a successful professional, and she has a piece of advice for aspiring accountants.  

“You cannot be dismayed by obstacles, and if you fall eight times, you get back up nine times more,” said Pottschmidt. “Minorities, women, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized groups often need to fight a little harder and face barriers their peers don’t have to face, but you should never compare yourself. If you have a place where you want to be, make a plan and develop tunnel vision to achieve your goal.”

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