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Why High School is the Center of the CPA Talent Pipeline

Dec 20, 2021
High school students
It’s no secret to us that being a CPA is an exciting profession, especially as we experience the current tech-driven environment. But despite the opportunity, members are increasingly noting one significant concern and challenge: a strong talent pipeline.

Several factors can be attributed to affecting the talent pipeline:
  • There is a decline in college enrollments. According to the 2021 Indiana College Readiness Report, only 59% of high school graduates in Indiana went on to some form of higher learning, a drop from 61% in 2018.
  • Opportunities are being created for accounting/business minded students that do not require a CPA license.
  • CPA licensure can be complex and time consuming (not to mention rising tuition expenses with obtaining the required 150 credit hours).
  • Starting salaries are not competitive with other industries like tech, finance and consulting and other industries do not require 150 credit hours and don’t have an Exam.
  • Younger generations are looking for more non-traditional work settings and diverse teams.
For over 10 years INCPAS has seen talent pipeline and diversity issues as ones that go hand and hand. We’ve also worked to address them with the same strategy: focusing on high school students.

"As I travel the state and connect with members in order to better understand challenges they are facing, again and again, those I'm meeting with identify the talent pipeline as a top concern," says Indiana CPA Society President & CEO Courtney Kincaid, CAE. "Employers are looking for ways to attract and retain talent at all levels. By committing resources for high school students that are aimed at increasing awareness of the many opportunities the CPA profession offers, we're taking a critical first step."

Why high school students?

Improving the number of individuals who decide to become CPAs while boosting the number of underrepresented groups within the profession starts with exposure. And when it comes to inspiring future CPAs, the earlier the exposure the better.

“Kids still don't have a good perception of what CPAs do and what the opportunities are, so they'd rather do something else,” said Charles Johnson, CPA, retiring managing principal of Engaging Solutions, LLC, and former INCPAS Board Chair.

Most students who end up in accounting might not consider it until college, but not planning ahead can put their path to CPA behind if they aren’t working toward their credit hour requirements soon enough.

That’s why over 10 years ago the INCPAS Board and staff realized high school students are the ideal group to engage in order to generate more interest in the profession.

The average student has little exposure to accounting as a career path, but even students who take accounting classes in high school don’t traditionally learn much about what being a CPA entails. With most adults also not having a clear understanding of what being a CPA is, parental and teacher influence can be limited to steer students toward the profession.

“I was someone who knew a little bit about accounting, but not the path I needed to take or what routes there even are within accounting and business,” says Nailah Owens-Johnson, CPA, a 2014–15 INCPAS Scholar who now works for PwC in Chicago. Owens-Johnson directly credits participating in the INCPAS Scholars program with teaching her what her future could look like if she pursued the CPA license. “I got to see that it wasn't just sitting in a boring cubicle like what people think of as accounting, and that definitely helped me understand what different opportunities there were as a CPA,” she said.

New ways to engage high school students

The INCPAS Scholars program, our mentorship and college readiness program, and Game On, a one-day event giving students a crash-course on the CPA profession, have long been cornerstones of our efforts to boost exposure and diversity.

But over the past year we’ve sought new ways to continue strengthening our efforts.

CPA Week
In 2020 we retired the Game On program and reimagined it to become CPA Week, which allows us to reach significantly more students. This presentation series introduces students to CPAs from across the profession who share their day-to-day work life, experiences and career path, and the opportunities being a CPA can offer.

This fall 32 volunteers gave 39 presentations introducing approximately 1,000 students to being a CPA. This was up from approximately 450 students last year.

High School Membership
INCPAS is thrilled to now offer a FREE high school membership for students who are exploring their career paths or might already have an interest in being a CPA.

This membership level is a way for students to be regularly engaged with the profession through meaningful content and opportunities. In addition to learning about the latest in the CPA profession and opportunities as a career path, membership benefits include:
  • Information about college accounting programs throughout Indiana to explore higher learning opportunities and college readiness topics.
  • Access to special events, including opportunities to meet representatives from Indiana colleges and universities as well as INCPAS members.
  • Job shadowing opportunities to get an in-person look at what being a CPA looks like.
  • Professional network building and a chance start developing a professional resume.
  • Scholarship opportunities to help fund a future college education in accounting.

This new level of membership is open to all Indiana high school students and the sign-up is simple. Know a student who could benefit from learning about accounting and being a CPA? Direct them to our High School Membership application.

High School Hub
In addition to our membership, our online High School hub provides additional resources for students exploring their professional options. Students can access materials about the CPA career path, including videos and career guides, and reach out to INCPAS to connect with CPAs in their area and talk more about the profession. Visit the High School Hub here.

Strengthening the CPA Profession

As Indiana’s foremost champion of the CPA profession, we are excited to continue engaging with students across the state. Every opportunity to engage with a student is a step toward strengthening the talent pipeline. Even for students who don’t pursue a CPA license, providing additional education on what CPAs do is a step toward gaining stronger understanding within our communities and championing the field.

We can’t serve high school students without your support! If you’re interested in volunteering for one of our programs or exploring other ways you or your firm can support high school initiatives, please reach out to Ali Paul, CAE, INCPAS Vice President – Pipeline & Outreach, to get started.

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