Training for a new world
‘Where would economy be if audit firms weren’t training and producing CAs?’
AS IF SOUTH AFRICA’S skills shortage were not enough, economic globalisation means our top professional talent finds it easier than ever to relocate overseas. Certain professions, such as accountants and tax lawyers, now find it much easier to move overseas than they did 10 to 15 years ago when SA’s tax and accounting laws were starkly different. Currently, the differences are minuscule. Therefore retention of skilled people is quite as important a challenge as training.
Richard Warren-Tangney, KPMG director of Recruitment and Global Opportunity, describes retention as “the bigger challenge”. When most people talk of the dire skills shortage facing SA, they’re in fact talking of a future of strong economic growth in which our current failure to produce skilled people will snowball into impossible figures in the future.
But for the present, more than one audit firm claims it’s experiencing no shortage of accountancy graduates and therefore attraction of talent isn’t a problem.
As part of the audit profession, Warren-Tangney says retaining people in that profession has always been a challenge but a growing one more recently – for a number of reasons. “Until this year’s slowdown, the strong economic growth of the past few years meant there was enormous opportunity for recently qualified chartered accountants (CAs) to get top jobs in commerce and industry. Furthermore, the various black economic empowerment charters meant significantly increased opportunities for black CAs outside the profession. Significant numbers of black CAs choose to leave the industry as soon they qualify.”
One crucial explanation why CAs are enticed out of the profession is its increasing regulation, starting with the corporate failures (including Enron, WorldCom, Masterbond and LeisureNet) since 2001. Warran-Tangney says: “That straitjacket means auditing isn’t as attractive a career as it once was for people whose skills are in great demand by industries offering highly stimulating career prospects.”
That’s neither a new trend nor peculiar to SA but has become more pronounced here over recent years. Despite haemorrhaging, people training is something the audit profession recognises it has to continue doing. “Where would the economy be if the audit firms weren’t training and producing CAs? We have an enormous responsibility to provide training, mentoring, coaching and on-the-job feedback to trainees. However, the cost of providing that level of development is significant to the firm, given that in many cases we immediately lose people to commerce,” says Warren-Tangney.
The nature of training is also changing, as the world becomes increasingly wired into the Internet. A new generation brought up on electronic gadgetry and instant access to online information is challenging the older generation as never before, says Warren-Tangney. Experience gained over years of trial and error can now be learned in a moment and that experience is no longer respected as it once was.
It’s a challenge to both sides: for the younger generation to accept the hierarchy of the business environment and for senior partners to get used to being challenged by young upstarts. Those dynamics have to be incorporated into learning methodologies to sensitise all parties to such changing dynamics.
Companies, countries and sectors of the economy that are going to be successful in future are those that tap into the youth culture and incorporate that into the workforce without friction. We find that where we do that successfully it engenders a great deal of loyalty.
Retention is the bigger challenge. Richard Warren-Tangney