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Save the Associations

Growing into the Future: The value of early engagement

Ohio Society of CPAs – Save the Associations Vol. 6

The Ohio Society of CPAs (OSCPA) has long been a leader in both the accounting and association worlds because of its future-focused initiatives. Its programs for college students and young professionals have resulted in their association successfully engaging Millennials. In fact, membership is now perfectly in line with business - Millennials make up 27% of the workforce and 26% of OSCPA’s membership. But like any good leader, OSCPA knows there are always new challenges that lie ahead.

“Our members are telling us that new graduates need higher-level skills to meet business demands,” shared OSCPA President and CEO Scott Wiley, CAE. “Automation is making the entry level accounting work of yesteryear obsolete. That means firms need new graduates to be year-two ready and take on client relationship management and other higher-level responsibilities sooner.” 

In response to business feedback, colleges are shaping program curricula to be more career-focused to better prepare students. These specialized degrees are a large time commitment, requiring students to pick a degree early if they want to finish in four years.

Associations and businesses can help by engaging Gen Z students in high school, so they can commit their full college career to their specialized degree. In response to this need, OSCPA decided in 2016 to create a high school student membership to help guide students to the CPA profession. Today it has more than 2,000 high-school-aged members.

High School OSCPA Membership

The high school OSCPA membership serves students by giving them the information they need to know about the accounting profession, such as salary trajectory, career opportunities and what it takes to earn the CPA credential.

The high school membership also offers key insights into what an accounting career would look like and explains the process of becoming a CPA through tailored events:

  • High School Accounting Career Days engage high school students on various college campuses throughout Ohio. In 2017, OSCPA held six different events, engaged more than 1,200 students and provided them with valuable information about the profession, internship opportunities and job security after graduation.
  • ACAP-Ohio is a weeklong summer camp for racially underrepresented students held in partnership with the National Association of Black Accountants at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. Forty-five students have the opportunity to explore careers in accounting while spending a week on a college campus.
  • CPA Camp is a new program launching Summer 2018 for underrepresented high school students in the Greater Cleveland area who are interested in exploring careers in accounting.


Creating Engaging Content

OSCPA understands that knowing what information Generation Z wants is only half the battle. They also must be creative in how and where they share this information to grab Gen Z’s attention.

“OSCPA is using more images and videos and is on social media to communicate with members and meet their expectations,” Wiley said. Here are a few ways OSCPA is meeting those expectations:

  • ‍Fun social media campaigns, such as featuring CPAs with their pets and highlighting Ohio accounting couples for Valentine’s Day.
  • A Certified YouTube series that follows a group of aspiring CPAs as they prepare for and take the various sections of the CPA exam. The series offers young people a realistic view of what to expect.
  • ‍Through podcasts such as “The State of Business with the Ohio Society of CPAs” podcast that launched Spring 2018, showcasing two nationally recognized thought leaders: Danetha Doe and Chris Ortega.
  • The OSCPA blog, which allows the association to reach members every day on the topics members care most about. 


The Advice for Other Associations

Wiley encourages other associations to be ready for resistance when they want to push for change; change is hard for people. “Leaders need to be prepared to be transparent, vocal, and repetitive,” said Wiley. “Positioning change takes time, requires transparency and, for associations, has to be grounded in trust. If not, the change we seek won’t be the change we deliver.”

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

XYZ University - Save the Associations Blog Series

All summer long XYZ University will be sharing inspiring stories of associations that are doing something exceptional to 'save' their association and their industry from an untimely demise. XYZ U exists to help organizations engage younger generations of members, talent, and marketshare. We offer unparalleled generational expertise, coupled with an in-depth knowledge of future economic, membership, and marketing trends, to advise clients on the best strategies for long-term growth, relevance, and market engagement.

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