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Accounting Is a Sector on the Front Lines of Innovation

Some Clear Math

By Amy Pitter

Now that all the mortarboards have been flipped in the air, college graduates are assessing their career prospects. Amid all the noise surrounding their choices, at least one trend is very clear: Much of the opportunity in the innovation economy goes to the mathematically inclined — research scientists, data analysts, and robotics engineers, to name a few. We just can’t get enough of them.

But let me suggest another high-demand, math-centric occupation that may surprise you: Accounting. It is, in fact, one of the hottest fields for young graduates in the Commonwealth. Why accountants? You can’t have an innovation economy, or anything resembling a healthy economy, without them. Accountants set up the financial controls and systems that help companies prosper. And they are in the middle of the new economy, by, for example, auditing companies for acquisition and providing the financial data for initial public offerings, among many other critical services.

In short, as Massachusetts grows, so does its accounting sector. And as we look to create more pathways for less-advantaged students to join the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) economy, accounting holds the potential to be a bridge to have them play a role in the innovation that’s driving Massachusetts’ growth.

Attractive Numbers

This year, many accounting graduates are quickly walking into jobs that pay $53,000. Colleges are seeing placement rates for grads of well over 90% — it’s a whopping 97% at UMass Amherst three months after graduation. And demand will increase as the retirement wave that is expected to drain many sectors also hits accounting. In fact, it’s estimated that 75% of certified public accounts, or CPAs, will retire in the next 15 years.

Despite the strong demand, and its clear-math orientation, accounting has not yet found a place in the roster of STEM occupations considered by students. That’s an avoidable loss for many young students who struggle imagining themselves in a research lab or calculating the algorithms in a computer-science class, but love numbers all the same.

We are going to need many new accountants over the next 10 years, an occupation that not only pays well, but also often leads to additional opportunities and greater earning potential. As Massachusetts business and government leaders look to connect students with the many possibilities in STEM careers, accounting should be part of the mix. Given the clear demand, an advanced-placement course in accounting deserves a place in the high-school curriculum.

As we consider addressing growing income inequality, we need to capture the imagination of students to see themselves in various fields well before they reach college. Here’s the conundrum: even though our fourth- and eighth-grade student test scores, including math, are the highest in the nation, the income gap in Massachusetts is the widest in the country.

As STEM-related occupations account for a larger percentage of the Massachusetts workforce, we risk letting the gap widen, leaving too many kids behind. Accounting beckons as a great opportunity to open more doors for students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Accounting also holds potential to diversify math-oriented fields, which tend to be predominately white and male. That is why we at the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants hold workshops, focusing on diversity recruiting.

We are also working with the Massachusetts STEM Advisory Council to integrate accounting into their efforts to expand STEM opportunities, specifically through the Early College High School Program.

The society is hopeful the Massachusetts House and Senate will prioritize funding streams for these important programs in the FY17 budget to start building the pipeline of talent. Recognizing accounting as one of many high-growth segments of Massachusetts that often puts professionals on the front lines of innovation is a great place to start.

Amy Pitter is president and CEO of the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants.

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