A Shortage of Experience

An audit director discovers her department’s ratio of seasoned staff to callow newcomers has reached a critical imbalance.

Edited by Eelco van Wijk

Robin is an audit director at OperTeq, a U.S. information technology company with annual revenues exceeding us $30 billion. Robin and the department’s four other audit directors have a staff of 15 managers and more than 100 auditors to cover the company’s audit universe. Most of the department’s resources are centralized across three main regional offices.

Robin has been evaluating the department’s hiring and retention history, including success rate, and she’s growing concerned about a developing trend. Due to a recent expansion of the audit group, several of the most senior staff members were promoted into company management, significantly lowering the average experience level of the remaining staff. Most of the personnel hired to replace the promoted auditors possess significantly less experience than their predecessors.

Over the years, the company has relied on a college internship program as its primary source of new auditors. The program has been a great success — many interns return to the company after graduating college, providing a steady influx of new hires. At the same time, however, the interns come to the department with almost no experience and require extensive guidance and training. The department struggles at times to maintain a steady base of seasoned auditors to offset the interns’ inexperience and ensure the quality of audits performed.

Efforts by the department to attract more seasoned auditors have been handicapped by continually rising salaries and the near-stranglehold that major accounting and consulting firms seem to have on the job market. In fact, nearly 90 percent of audit executives who participated in a 2006 Robert Half International survey, “Recruitment and Retention of Internal Auditors,” said recruiting skilled internal auditors has become more challenging in recent years. Other factors that have eroded the department’s collective experience level include high turnover and insufficient training funds.

Robin is concerned about feedback she’s received from clients indicating that audit teams may be too young or inexperienced to perform quality work. In many cases, the department’s new hires are mentored and trained by auditors who have not been with the company much longer than the trainees. Without breaking the bank, how can Robin improve the overall experience level and perceived quality of OperTeq’s audit department? Should she and her peers try to reduce the inflow of former interns? Are there other significant issues that impact this situation, or that may be affected?

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