By Margaret Michaels
I clearly remember my first entry-level job. I graduated from college with a journalism degree and a vague idea of what I wanted to be doing (other than being able to afford a share in a NYC apartment). I went to a staffing agency and was tested on typing, spelling, and proofreading: I scored an administrative assistant position where I learned more than I ever did in college about how an office functioned. It was a good first step for me into the work world.
Everyone has their own career journey. In the technical field of accounting and finance, career trajectories are supposed to be more straightforward. College coursework should prepare these professionals for the type of work they will do. Today, as more and more employers seek out graduates with technical skills (top degrees in demand include business, engineering and computer science, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ 2018 Job Outlook Survey), their willingness to hire entry-level professionals who can’t hit the ground running is dwindling.
Hence, there is much discussion about a “skills gap.” IMA has been at the forefront of this discussion, long before it was making headlines. For instance, in 1994, Kristine Mayer Brands, CMA, and editor of Management Accounting wrote about this topic, referencing a 1994 IMA co-sponsored study on “What Corporate America Wants in Entry-Level Accountants.” The study concluded “entry-level accountants were underprepared in eight critical areas all related to managerial accounting.” These were budgeting, product costing, strategic cost management, control/performance, evaluation, information systems design, working capital management, asset management and planning, and long-term financing.
What followed were concerted efforts by IMA to bridge the gap between the skills students had with the skills employers looked for in entry-level professionals. In 1999, IMA conducted a practice analysis of management accounting, which revealed management accountants were expected to be “business partners” and drive strategic activity. This had far-reaching implications for undergraduate accounting education still referenced today.
Additionally, IMA recognized that to fulfill the function of business partner or trusted advisor, students needed to have more than just technical skills. They also needed soft skills that could only be learned through interpersonal relationships and networking opportunities. In 2000, IMA held its first Student Leadership Conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado, offering three days of learning and career networking opportunities for college students and educators. This conference is now held annually in November, providing students with an avenue for connecting with those in the working world.
Students would also need to experience what it was like to be a leader, even if they were not yet ready to hold leadership positions in the companies where they planned on working. So, in 2009, IMA established its Leadership Academy providing volunteer leadership opportunities for students and professionals alike, who often lack these opportunities at work or in school.
One of the most significant achievements for IMA in bridging the skills gap came in 2013 when IMA rolled out its Higher Education Endorsement Program, recognizing business curricula that met the quality educational standards required to prepare students for the CMA credential. It ensures what is taught in school is aligned with the skills needed to pass both parts of the CMA exam.
When skills of graduating students don’t match employer expectations, it can be considered nothing less than a crisis for the continuation of any profession. In 2013 IMA struck that urgent tone, launching a two-year initiative (IMA’s Competency Crisis), bringing together key stakeholders to map solutions and drive discussion around the issue.
Today IMA has enhanced its Competency Framework to reflect new demands placed on management accountants so those entering the profession have a better sense of employer expectations. IMA also offers to its student members CareerDriver, a tool members can use evaluate their professional skill set, build a personalized development plan, and explore new career paths.
Management accounting is a great profession; 76% of respondents to IMA’s 2019 U.S. Salary Survey said, “I love my job.” But IMA recognizes to get to that level of satisfaction requires support early on. That is why IMA has been instrumental in bridging the critical gap between college graduates and satisfying jobs.
As college graduation season comes to an end, new grads will be entering the workforce. IMA will be ready to support them through one of the hardest learning curves – transitioning from school to work.
Currently serves as IMA’s Manager of Brand Content and Storytelling where she works on IMA’s blog, executive-level presentations, and CMA stories. Margaret has over a decade of experience creating and executing marketing communications in the financial services and non-profit sectors. She recently headed up communications for the City University of New York’s Institute for State and Local Governance (ISLG) where she worked on public affairs for the Equality Indicators, a Rockefeller-funded performance measurement tool for cities.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware and a Masters in Information Science from Pratt Institute.