How Our Association Prepared for the Future

Written by Scott D. Wiley on October 11, 2017

When even planning for the next two years can feel overwhelming, plotting out the bigger picture at your association takes initiative. But when we talk about the workforce pipeline - the pool of eligible candidates prepared to take on professional roles in an industry as opportunities open up - it’s all about the bigger picture. The industry must find ways to nurture such a pool to avoid a talent shortage in years to come. After all, we’re in this for the long haul.

As the Boomer generation retires, new waves of talent need to be guided into professions in order for industries to survive what is undoubtedly a workforce crisis. Think back to the career guidance you received in high school: did anyone guide you towards the place you are now, or was your career path a series of happy accidents?

Let’s not leave the direction of the incoming generation of professionals up to chance. By providing career guidance to prospective members early on, associations can play an important role in building a sustainable industry.

At The Ohio Society of Certified Public Accountants (OSCPA), we have implemented a business model that keeps the next chapter front and center. Not only has this begun to build the future CPA talent pipeline by engaging students and future professionals, it also has prompted the biggest boom in association membership in our history.

So how did we do it?

Focus on the future

The accounting industry is strong in Ohio and nationwide. We analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and found a forecast for significant growth for auditors, analysts and management consultants between now and 2024. However, the number of high school graduates in the state will decline by 8% between now and 2023. As our population falls off, we are also challenged by losing too many graduates to cities like Chicago, New York, and LA.

OSCPA decided to tackle this challenge strategically by leveraging our knowledge of the accounting market in Ohio and relationships with leading CPAs. This involves creating ongoing relationships between young people, our association, and the accounting profession to generate more interest among students in accounting. Companies and business officials want to support their potential employees, and we can facilitate that connection.

Engage potential professionals

Instead of waiting for college graduates to come to us, we launched a high school workforce pipeline program to compete for top talent being lured by STEM fields. To appeal to students, we frame accountancy as an opportunity profession. When we reach out to high school students and the adults who influence them, we strive to learn what stereotypes about our industry come to mind, and then turn those around. People hear ‘accountant’ and think of taxation and auditing. What they don’t think of is the growing advisory segment of the profession, and the cutting-edge technology that is shaping the future of accounting.

To these incoming association members, we say: choose your own adventure. Whether that is a career in public accounting, entrepreneurship, or the nonprofit sector, we emphasize the competitive starting salaries, high employment rates, and long-term earning potential of becoming a CPA with many career options to choose from.

Remove barriers

Our goal is to build relationships with students that start in high school and continue through college and beyond. OSCPA offers free memberships to high school and college students we meet through our extensive outreach programs across Ohio. Students receive monthly emails with facts about the profession, access to career and professional resources, our social media sites network and invitations to networking events where they can meet CPAs. For someone making the decision about whether or not this career path fits the bill for them, asking for member dues right away poses a barrier that they may not be willing to cross.

Complimentary membership welcomes them in, providing an entry point into the community and profession. Up until three years ago we had around 2000 college student members. Today that number has more than tripled, to 7,200. When these young people graduate into the professional world of accounting, they will give back to the association through member dues and more. Investment in the next chapter pays dividends.

Take a unique approach

Our story is unique. When it comes to the diverse world of associations, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. For that reason, I encourage you to find the best way to tackle the workforce crisis in your industry, by considering data specific to your field. Take time to analyze the information available to you, and lead by developing an innovative strategy unique to your members and industry.

This workforce development plan pivoted the entire focus of our association. Without ignoring other new and existing projects, we have staff members dedicated to this area and a team working to support them. It has transformed our entire staff into an association of influencers. It has positioned us as thought leaders, and elected officials and business leaders now turn to us for solutions.

Young people aren’t looking for a crystal ball. They’re looking for opportunities to feel a part of something – and you can deliver opportunities that they can believe in. Engage young people as part of your association’s workforce development plan, and secure the future of your industry.

Does this topic intrigue you? Scott spoke on this subject at SURGE 2017, a free virtual summit we hosted November 7-9th. Click here to access the replay of the session.