The weeks after Tax Day used to be time for a much deserved break for accounting firms.

No more. After tax season comes recruitment and retention time.

“The competition for these talented professionals is as great as ever, as great as I can remember. There are so many opportunities for these individuals to choose,” said Jeff Cotton, Minneapolis managing partner for accounting and consulting firm Deloitte.

Indeed, not only do accounting firms need to compete with one another for new candidates, they have to keep their own employees from jumping ship, some even to the clients.

Total demand for accounting graduates continues to increase, according to the 2015 trends report published by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. In 2014, CPA firms hired 43,252 new accounting graduates, a 7 percent jump from the year before, with a majority of the increase coming from master’s hires.

Accountant salary ranges are expected to climb an average 4.7 percent this year, as reported by Robert Half’s Salary Guide.

“In my 29 years I can’t remember a time where there has been such a strong demand for people as there is right now,” said Steve Kenney, regional vice president for the Robert Half staffing agency, in an interview. “There’s a home for every candidate.”

There are fewer people pursuing accounting and who want to undergo the 150 college credit hours needed to become a certified public accountant, Kenney said. The field also can be unappealing for those who don’t want to deal with the stress of 60-hour minimum work weeks during a monthslong span.

Companies are competing aggressively for hires, Kenney said. Especially as they face impending waves of retirements, they also are trying to change so they are more appealing to millennials.

At the local offices for Deloitte, which employs around 900 workers in the Twin Cities making it the area’s largest professional services office, the talent challenge is “one of our most pressing issues,” Cotton said.

“Some of our professionals may get through a busy season and think about, ‘Boy, are there other opportunities somewhere else that might be better for me personally or for my family?’ ” he said. “For us, this is the time of the year where we want to spend time with our people and we want to thank them for all the hard work and sacrifice that they put in.”

One large investment Deloitte made was in training. The company in 2011 opened the $300 million Deloitte University in Westlake, Texas.

During fiscal year 2015, close to 50,000 Deloitte professionals visited at the 700,000-square-foot campus.

“We think that we have something that other organizations don’t have,” Cotton said. “We really think it’s state of the art and leading edge.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) employs about 650 people in the Twin Cities, and the office here hires about 100 students on campuses each year. About 70 to 80 percent of employees are millennials, who crave flexibility among other priorities.

“It is a war for talent,” said Tom Montminy, managing partner of PwC’s Greater Minneapolis market. “Hire, train and retain. We don’t have a product; our product is our people.”

PwC recently launched the Talent Exchange, a digital portal to connect independent contractors to work projects. And starting in July, PwC will pay $100 a month for up to six years toward the college loans of its young workers as part of an incentive program open to any employee with less than six years on the job.

The Minneapolis PwC office also is moving its downtown office this summer to the PwC Plaza at 45 S. 7th St., another change that it hopes will appeal to a younger demographic of its employees. The space is being designed to allow for more collaboration and mobile workspaces complete with interactive cafes, a wall of whiteboards in almost every office, and roof decks including one on the 35th floor that will give a view of Target Field.

While large firms have advantages, small and midsize firms are stepping up their games as well.

Eden Prairie-based accounting and financial consulting firm Boulay stresses to potential employees the opportunities to learn in a more hands-on environment, said Julie Brown, a Boulay human resources representative.

“I like that we can offer a student coming out of college as an intern, as an associate, being able to actually have conversations with these business owners,” she said.

Boulay has about 160 employees and prides itself on a culture of camaraderie where staff attend family events and employee dinners, Brown said.

Often smaller firms give young workers the chance to get their hands dirty, said Scott Kadrlik, managing partner at Meuwissen, Flygare, Kadrlik and Associates.

“We don’t shelter these kids,” he said. “We don’t put them in a corner. We are giving them client contact.”

His small firm of fewer than 20 people owes its retention to flexibility, Kadrlik said. Employees can choose work schedules that work for them.

To cope with the increased competition, John A. Knutson and Co. in Falcon Heights started approaching and making offers to job candidates earlier in the school year and is doing more continued recruitment, said Kyla Hansen, a director who is on the hiring committee at the firm.

She said she thinks the industry gets “a bad rap” for burning people out, when in actuality during the off season workers can expect greater flexibility than in other jobs.

“I think the industry could do a better job of not making it sound like horror stories,” she said.

 

Twitter: @nicolenorfleet