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Facing shortage, accountants hope to sell students on the job

Denzel Samuel, a Boston resident who attends Wayland High School, asks a question at the Real World CPA panel hosted by the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants.
Denzel Samuel, a Boston resident who attends Wayland High School, asks a question at the Real World CPA panel hosted by the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants. (Zac Carpman)

Most people are less than enthusiastic about doing their taxes, but for 17-year-old Back Bay resident Denzel Samuel, learning about the process was one of the most fascinating parts of summer camp – or, more precisely, CAMP.

This year’s Careers in Accounting and Management Professions program — CAMP for short — offered by the University of Massachusetts Amherst Isenberg School of Management in July, gave Samuel and 27 other minority students a free crash course in the profession and other business-related pursuits.

Students, in addition to attending workshops and seminars, traveled to Boston July 27, where they participated in a panel with four certified public accountants and met with members of Big Four firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“It’s been pretty awesome,” said Samuel, grinning after walking out of the panel, which featured CPAs from Ernst & Young, CBIZ Tofias, and The RMR Group. “I thought this was going to be accounting bootcamp, but, to be honest, I never thought it’d be this much fun.”

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CAMP, sponsored by the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants, is a free program. MSCPA President Amy Pitter is a firm believer in spreading the word to young people, like Samuel, about a profession she says is in the rare position of growing so fast that it has more jobs than people to fill them.

Massachusetts, along with the rest of the nation, has a shortage of accountants, with 2016 being especially challenging when it has come to hiring.

“One of the most important functions we have is that we help to fuel the pipeline by creating accountants,” Pitter said.

That involves increasing diversity in the field through a combination of workshops, school visits, and initiatives like CAMP. Pitter says the program is intended to serve as a baseline introduction to accounting, but its real strength is in opening the door to a wider variety of students.

“What they’re picking up is a vision for what their life and career could look like if they study accounting or business,” Pitter explains. “It’s hugely important to the profession to inspire and attract kids as young as possible, and it’s important the profession becomes more diverse.”

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Accounting remains predominantly white and male (only one in six professionals in US accounting firms are minorities, according to the American Institute of CPAs). But programs like CAMP focus on diversifying the field. In addition to encouraging students from different backgrounds, such programs also work to overcome accounting’s reputation as a second-generation career — that is, one often sought out by those with parents in the field.

“You don’t really have to sell people on it anymore,” says Pitter of initiatives to diversify the industry. “You don’t have to talk about the business case for why it’s a good idea – now, it’s all about how.”

During the panel at PwC, students grilled the CPAs on everything from how they got into the field, to the trickiest parts of their jobs, to how they make time for personal lives outside the office.

“Accounting is very different from what most people outside the field think it is,” explained Rob Miller, a CPA and certified fraud examiner with CBIZ Tofias, as Samuel and the others listened, occasionally raising their hands with questions.

“I don’t know anything about taxes — you wouldn’t want me anywhere near your taxes, I’d mess them up,” he said, laughing. “But people steal money all the time. I look at how they did it, what they took, and over how long a period of time. It can get pretty crazy sometimes.”

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Samuel, who attends Wayland High School through the METCO program, said he particularly enjoyed learning about mergers and acquisitions, taxation, and investment methods throughout the week. But the best part, he said, was interacting with panel speakers, firm members, and others in the business.

Todd Bari, an assurance partner at PwC, was happy to host the CAMP attendees.

“We think orienting youth with respect to the opportunities in business . . . is good for business,” he said. “Everyone can think more about the future talent that’s coming down through the system.”


Isaac Feldberg can be reached at isaac.feldberg@globe.com.