Train­ing for a new world

‘Where would econ­omy be if au­dit firms weren’t train­ing and pro­duc­ing CAs?’

Finweek English Edition - - Focus On -

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

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