Think there’s a shortage of young investment advisors and financial planners? Just be glad you’re not a CPA. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for accounting professionals is expected to increase, with an anticipated 18% to 26% growth rate through 2014. However, the supply of accounting professionals is shrinking fast, and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has noted that within 14 years, 75% of its membership will be eligible to retire. Consequently, accounting firms will soon face an employment gap.

The 2006 Young Accounting Professionals Survey conducted by CCH and Harris Interactiv,e included telephone interviews conducted between July and August 2006 with 150 CPAs who had from four to seven years of experience in a U.S. firm. Those firms went from small to large, ranging in size from fewer than five practitioners to those with more than 100 employees. The survey measured what is important to these CPAs and how well their firms were delivering in the areas of firm resources and infrastructure; benefits and compensation; professional training and development; and firm culture. Surprisingly, in nearly every instance, less than one-half of firms received a “Very Good” rating on their ability to deliver in those areas of concern.

According to the survey, the three most important benefits to young professionals are compensation (74%), flexible hours (51%), and reward directly on merit (34%). However, only 19 % ranked their firm’s compensation as very good and 20% when it came to reward directly on merit. CPAs did give their firms a higher rating when it came to offering flexible hours– 45%.

“The findings of the CCH survey show a gap between what is most important to young professionals today, and how well firms are doing in meeting those needs. As the tug-of-war for talent in the profession continues, firms must utilize every lever that they have: firm resources and infrastructure; benefits and compensation; professional training and development; and firm culture to ensure they have a competitive edge in finding and keeping the best employees,” said Mike Sabbatis, CCH executive VP of global sales and marketing, in a statement.

When asked to choose the three most important infrastructure attributes, 67% cited comprehensive resources, 55% cited access to the latest technology, and 48% cited investment in leading tax and accounting software. Yet, only 39% highly rated their firm’s ability to provide comprehensive resources, while 33% felt their firm was doing a very good job in providing access to the latest technology. As for firm investment in leading tax and accounting software, 41% rated their firm’s offering as very good. “When you look across all the attributes, you see that young CPAs want the tools they need to get their jobs done; they want to be rewarded for their performance; and, while they want to be challenged, they also want balance between work and personal life,” said Sabbatis. “None of this is particularly surprising, but what is truly concerning is that many young professionals feel their firms aren’t delivering on this. In an environment where the future growth and even survival of the firm relies on attracting and retaining young CPAs in a highly competitive job market, firms must take action now to see what they can do and who they can partner with to help deliver on these expectations.”

The survey also asked respondents why they became a CPA. Over one-third (37%) reported they entered the profession because they thought it offered good career opportunities, while 20% did it for a chance at a challenging work environment. Fifteen percent of respondents cited job stability and financial security as the reasons they joined the profession, while 2% said it was to “make a difference.” One percent cited opportunity to travel; and10% cited other reasons for becoming a CPA.