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In the 2016 IFAC Global SMP Survey, 33% of the Respondents reported that personnel and staffing issues were either a high or a very high challenge. The top three personnel challenges they saw were:

  • Finding qualified staff (at all levels) – 45%
  • Retaining qualified staff (at all levels) – 41%; and
  • Provision of technical training – 35%

The AICPA 2017 Top Issues Survey also found that staffing is at the top of mind for many practitioners with finding and retaining staff a key issue across all sizes of SMPs. 

It is important for many smaller accounting practices to genuinely reflect on how to ensure the career path for younger generations in the profession so that it will continue to be attractive over time. Given the technology developments impacting the profession, the model of practices is likely to change with ramifications on recruitment and talent management. For example, some firms are now hiring data scientists, rather than individuals who have studied accountancy.

The Accountancy Europe publication “Keeping the Audit Profession Attractive” listed five factors influencing the attractiveness of the audit profession – the process of becoming a registered auditor, regulations, having a compliance mindset, technology and work-life balance. In addition, ACCA recently published the report Generation Next: Managing Talent in Small and Medium Sized Practices, which explores the strategies SMPs can adopt to access talent. The key findings were highlighted in a recent article.

The topic of youth and talent management was discussed during a recent IFAC Small & Medium Practices Committee (SMPC) meeting, which included practitioners from around the world sharing their perspectives and practice on how smaller practices can both attract and retain talent.

Advantages in joining smaller practices

The following advantages for young individuals joining smaller practices were noted:

  • The ability to be more customer focused. Such an approach allows staff to be closer to the clients and also partners. At an early stage of their career, younger staff have opportunities to work closely with clients and have greater possibilities to undertake a range of services, learn from senior staff and realize an increased chance of promotion;
  • The operating structure of an SMP is usually not in a silo. Staff will have the ability to develop a 360 learning experience in a relatively short time. In addition, staff can usually look forward to better job variety;
  • Better work-life balance proposition with a flexible HR policy; and
  • Higher correlation between work effort and earnings.

Talent Management Initiatives

To ensure that new openings appeal to the younger generation, firms will need to be more creative in this space. The top ten suggestions and measures to attract, develop and retain young talent in a smaller practice environment included:

  • Invest in technology and gadgets to create an efficient and enjoyable environment for staff to work in.
  • Create a sense of belonging for each employee. Team building sessions with the senior staff can assist in developing and building relationships and enhance communication throughout the practice;
  • Provide more opportunities for learning and continuous development. This includes offering scholarships to cover the cost of education, paid study time, prizes for students who excel with exam results, as well as organizing regular training courses and enabling experienced staff to train and mentor new employees;
  • Be prepared to pay market rates for talent. In order to recruit top talent in a competitive market place, the salary and benefits package remains very important;
  • Provide opportunities for the next generation to be more entrepreneurial and able to make a difference much faster. Demonstrate to them that their opinion matters. ‘Rising stars’ can be offered extra responsibilities, e.g. leading on specific technology projects. Based on research, the younger generation now wants to work for a purpose;
  • Provide internships and upon graduation from college or university, offer them a pathway to become a full-time employee;
  • Establish and build relationships with local higher learning institutions. For example, arrange access to high academic achievers or organize presentations at career fairs by former students of the institution now working within the firm;
  • Offer challenging assignments to new employees – clearly explain that there is a work plan for them when they join so that they can see their own career progression;
  • Use social media to reach out, target and engage younger generations; and
  • Publicize the firm’s investment in staff training and other personal development. This can send a powerful message to the marketplace and garner the interest of young job seekers.

PAO initiatives

It was noted that Professional Accountancy Organizations (PAOs) also have an important role to play. Suggestions for possible activities included:

  • Publishing success stories covering the benefits of working in a smaller practice;
  • Arranging for practitioners from SMPs to speak at student engagement events at the University or college level;
  • Organizing for peers of smaller firms to share best practices on talent attraction and retention, which can be recorded and disseminated to other members;
  • Helping to brand the career of an accountant and thus, drive more students into the profession; and
  • Creating a young CPA team in the PAO and emphasize reaching out to younger generations through activities and outreach. These individuals may be more relatable when speaking to their peer group.


It is important to recognize that the results from some of these talent management initiatives may take time to materialize. The key is to start investing in some of the initiatives above. The appropriate action will also vary depending on the size, location and circumstances of each practice.

Other relevant Global Knowledge Gateway articles and videos include:

Practitioners are invited to share other measures and best practices they have taken in successfully attracting, developing and retaining top talent below. The SMPC will be more than happy to hear, first hand from you.



Michael Mbaya

Michael Mbaya is a partner at the firm Mbaya & Associates, a firm in Kenya that serves the Africa region with audit, taxation and financial advisory services.  Mr. Mbaya is also a committee member of  the IFAC SMPC and is passionate about getting young minds to join and excel in the accounting profession. 

Abdulwahid Aboo

Auditor and Retired Partner, AAC Kenya-Certified Public Accountants

Abdulwahid Aboo is an Auditor and recently retired Partner of AAC Kenya-Certified Public Accountants; a member firm of IR Global. Currently Mr. Aboo is a consultant for taxation, new investments and financial services to AAC Kenya. He was a member of the International Federation of Accountants Committee (IFAC) for Small and Medium Practices (SMP) for six years, from 2012 to 2017 representing the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK). Mr. Aboo is a member of Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), being at present on the Global Forum (Committee) for Audit and Governance and is very active for philanthropic work and very passionate for the accountancy profession.

Johnny Yong

Executive Director, Confederation of Asian and Pacific Accountants

Prior to joining CAPA in July 2023, Johnny was the Head of Capital Market & Assurance at the Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA) where his main role was to develop guidelines, standards, and technical guidance materials for accountants and auditors in Malaysia. Between 2016 and early 2021, Johnny was a Technical Manager in IFAC, managing the SMP Committee (now known as an Advisory Group). Previously he was a partner of a training provider in Malaysia, led MIA's public practice department, and initially qualified as an accountant following his articleship with BDO Malaysia.