CPA Association, Deloitte & Touche Count on Games for Recruits

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It's a strange coincidence, but both Deloitte & Touche and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants are using online games to attract young recruits.


The AICPA effort targets college-bound high schoolers through college seniors. Created by direct marketing agency Wunderman New York, "The Turnaround Game" runs through February as the association's sixth business simulation exercise.


"It's to build awareness and understanding about the CPA profession and to enhance perception and also change misperceptions of the profession," said Louise Hraur De Sina, director of advertising and communications at AICPA, New York. "Another reason is to increase the recruitment of college students majoring in accounting and [for them to] pursue CPA certification."


Available at www.theturnaroundgame.com/news, the exercise -- which is a subset of AICPA's "Start Here. Go Places" student recruitment campaign -- gives players a chance to fix a fictitious failing record company called Big Noise. Registered players encounter business problems as well as ethical dilemmas and leadership concerns. They listen to what others have to say, working with a corporate team to be a problem solver.


"Generation Y, or the Millennials, have been online all their lives," De Sina said. "The game environment is an environment in which they've grown up, so it's a natural fit."


AICPA is using the Web to promote a profession hurt by accounting scandals as well as the attractiveness of an MBA education. Accounting majors dropped from 4 percent to 2 percent of those graduating college from 1990 to 2000, but now are up to 7 percent since 2001. The trend is similar with high school students.


The association estimates 55,000 college students graduate yearly in accounting. There are 460,000 CPAs nationwide, of which 350,000 belong to AICPA. About 3,000 of these members are also lawyers, a useful dual qualification in this day and age.


AICPA is using e-mail newsletters and a print magazine called "Start Here" to drive interest in "The Turnaround Game." The association is confident the program will engage students.


"We know students respond to the 'Show, don't tell' approach, which essentially means they want to experience things for themselves," said Sally Denniston, management supervisor at Wunderman New York.


Deloitte & Touche, too, used a game-based program from BrandGames, New York, to target college-bound students in grades 10 to 12. High schoolers nationwide competed head to head to win the accounting and consulting business of a fictional publicly traded company.


Called "The Virtual Team Challenge for High School," the two-week online challenge required students to work in teams and assume the role of employees at a large professional services firm like Deloitte. They developed business strategies to help their potential client streamline its growing global operations and sustain profitability. Deloitte volunteers advised the teams.


The company started the first challenge in 2004 as a text-based question-and-answer online program implemented through high schools. But the next year's program in November/December included video game play, with multimedia learning modules, video game challenges and the look and feel of such games.


A forthcoming talent shortage is spurring moves like Deloitte and AICPA's. U.S. colleges will graduate only 198,000 students to replace 2 million baby boomers slated to retire starting in 2008. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 300,000 of the 1.3 million new information technology jobs created between 1996 and this year will go unfilled. This explains the need to use tactics to replenish talent with such contemporary media and Web-based themes.


"Intuition and common sense tells Deloitte leadership, and firm research confirms, that video games have made a profound impact on the next generation of employees," said Jim Wexler, executive vice president of marketing at BrandGames. "Echo boomers, or call them and every generation in the foreseeable future the 'game generation,' view the world, communicate, learn, problem solve and collaborate in ways unlike any generation before them."


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