Despite the beaches and balmy weather, it can sometimes be difficult for Sarasota-based Kerkering Barberio & Co. to find qualified accountants to move to the area.
“We’re in an industry that’s tough to recruit in and has been for a long time,” said Tracy O’Neill, the chief administrative officer at Kerkering. “As much as people might think candidates from around the country want to come and live in Sarasota, it’s not that easy to recruit to our area.”
Instead, Kerkering Barberio and Shinn & Co., a Bradenton-based accounting firm, pull many of their hires from their own backyards: the accounting program at University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
Both firms have formed tight ties to the university, with the firms providing out-of-college work for graduates and the university working closely with the firms to make sure the accounting programs meet industry needs.
Representatives from both Kerkering and Shinn said about 30 percent of their employees come from USF.
Part of the rise in the need for qualified accountants is the ever-growing use of technology and “big data” in business, said Byron Shinn, the chief executive officer at Shinn & Co. More and more company executives are looking for accountants to assist in sorting and analyzing all that data, Shinn said.
“They need people who can assist them in analyzing and studying those numbers and then recommending and working with them to come up with solutions,” he said.
That’s where the outside accounting firms come in.
Another reason for the increase in demand for accountants? Retiring baby boomers, O’Neill said.
Both Shinn and O’Neill say that once people realize all the opportunities accounting provides — it can be more than just crunching numbers in a windowless office — the more interested they are in following the program as a career path.
Good accountants are linear thinkers, Shinn said, although there is a recent push to get some more creative minds in the field, which is helpful for coming up with solutions outside the box.
“There’s more and more forward thinking, progressive accountants understated that creativity is really very valuable,” Shinn said.
“It’s a high-in-demand profession,” O’Neill said. “It’s certainly one you can make a very nice living economically.”
Both companies recruit at USFSM, including attending job fairs. Both O’Neill and Shinn are USF graduates themselves.
They also have close relationships with professors and those in the department to help keep the professors and students on top of industry trends, and to ensure the students are adequately prepared to join the workforce when they leave campus.
“You see it in the leadership,” Shinn said. “At Sarasota-Manatee, they’re really doing a good job at trying to improve and understand what our needs are.”
Elizabeth Greene, a 31-year-old Bradenton resident and December 2014 USFSM accounting graduate, knew that working close to home was a priority. She and her husband have two children and own a home in the area.
A former medical biller, Greene said she’s always been inclined to numbers. The “intimate atmosphere” at USFSM drew her in. In one of her first accounting classes, she recalls, someone said most accounting majors end up switching to finance.
“It put a fire under my butt to see if I could do it,” she said. “I ended up really liking it.”
Greene started worked at Kerkering about two weeks after having her second child, where she joined many USF graduates, either from the Sarasota-Manatee campus or the other two system campuses.
“It’s kind of cool, you already know a few people when you start working there,” she said.
Ali Finn, a 29-year-old staff accountant at Shinn, was originally a marketing major, but switched over after taking the introductory accounting class all business majors have to take.
As she prepared to graduate in December 2014, one of the accounting professors recommended Shinn to Finn, she said. Finn was looking at some of the bigger markets, like Atlanta, but ultimately decided the smaller atmosphere would be a better fit for her starting out.
“With some of the bigger firms, you have to pick an area of specialization right off the bat and you kind of get stuck there,” she said. “I went and interviewed (at Shinn) and they appealed to me because I’d be able to do a variety of work.”
By the numbers
The tight relationship is paying off for USF-SM.
The Sarasota-Manatee campus has the best employment rate of the three accounting programs in the system, with 87 percent of graduates finding work, according to data from 2012-13, the most recent available data. At the local level, the accounting program has the second highest employment rate, behind the business administration and management category, which boasts a 90 percent employment rate.
Average quarterly earnings is also a strong selling point. The same 2012-13 data shows that accounting graduates earn an average of $11,413 quarterly, the third best in the state system and the second highest of all the majors at the local campus.
The average quarterly earnings for information technology graduates, which stood at $12,473 according to the 2012-13 report, was the highest of the local programs offered.