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Accounting Degrees Are No Longer Enough

Accounting Degrees Are No Longer Enough

by Geoff Balmer

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Reflecting on a presentation I gave to the Northern Sydney CPA Discussion Group, the most common question asked on the night was about the future for Sydney’s graduating accountants. This led me to consider how accounting graduates can secure the right role for their future. So accounting graduates of Sydney, this post is for you.

Let’s start with a simple fact. Recruitment agencies are rarely involved in sourcing graduates as most large organisations have in-house programs. Recruiters generally can help after you have obtained a few years experience. Larger clients prefer to hire candidates with some technical experience and this is where we start to have a problem.

I see two main factors contributing to this problem. (1) Graduate intake in many large companies has been cut by up to 50% during the past 5 years. The result is greater competition amongst university graduates to secure positions and those with the highest academic records will secure the majority of these roles. These lucky graduates will receive technical accounting training whereas graduates accepting roles in smaller entities will receive broader experience but without the technical training. With fewer placements post graduation, we are finding a shortage of up and coming accountants with two to three years technical experience.

(2) Offshoring – large corporations have strategically offshored roles in IT and call centres for years and this trend has continued with transactional accounting roles. It makes sense on a commercial level, in a global marketplace companies need to be competitive and Australia has a high labour cost compared to the rest of the world. The unfortunate impact is that entry level transactional accounting roles for graduates are no longer available. Again, this leads to fewer skilled resources with two to three years experience and more broadly is a factor in Australia’s increasing youth unemployment, currently 27%.

But fear not Sydney accounting grads, it’s not all doom and gloom. Those of you who are savvy and ambitious have an opportunity to enter the market more experienced than ever before! The key is to obtain work experience while you are at university. Volunteer at an accounting firm, be the treasurer of your football club, if you work in a small business ask to do the accounts for them. Think outside the box. The days of going to uni and stepping into your dream job without experience are over – unless you are in the Top 1% of your graduating class!

Undergraduates need to be smart and creative in order to find a role and offer prospective employees more than just a degree. Your question isn’t what can you do for me; it should be here’s how I can help you. Attitude, excellent communication skills and a willingness to take on all tasks is important. I’m not saying it is easy, the fact remains that it is tough for graduates to secure a role but you are likely to be more successful with a bit of initiative.

Hiring managers also have an important part to play in developing the skills of these new accountants. Knowing that costs are constantly under a microscope and headcount is a sensitive issue, employers should consider offering more work experience for undergraduates, using interns or taking on undergraduates for part-time work. Perhaps consider a graduate instead for your next junior role. By training the next generation of accountants, everyone wins.