Insider Business Club: skills gap

Is the quality of newly qualified accountants improving or

Ray Perry, director of brand, CIMA

It is improving – particularly from the perspective of fitness for purpose.
With the CIMA qualification and the other qualifications available there is a
focus on business and the business space.

For instance, in shaping our new syllabus the main pieces of research that
drove that was around what do businesses require. You can’t expect students to
come out of university and have the acumen and the experience to know what they
require and it really is the job of the professional institutes to make sure
that what we are providing does fill that gap.

The practical experience requirements and so on have to match what employers
want. What we are driving at is that the skills base is going to be broadly the
same year on year, but what we have all got to drive is the fitness for purpose
angle and ensure businesses get what they want.

We are also conscious that we have to train not just for what the employer
needs tomorrow in the finance function, but for a much wider funnel into general

Generally, UK companies are taking recruitment and training more seriously.
There is an expectation that all the jobs tend to want a CCAB qualified
individual for a more senior job.

Everybody is looking for companies that provide that level of qualification
and support and if the company is going to specifically invest in training and
books and courses to help these people get through, then obviously they don’t
want to waste their money.

And of course they want the best people in the first place. I think that
really is why it is getting ever more competitive.

Where are the skills gaps among newly qualifieds that need to be

Mary Campbell, ICAS council member and MD and founder of Blas

The concern that I have as an employer is around the lack of commerciality of
a lot of the youngsters coming through. And that is something that we would look
at in the syllabus content at the institute. How do we make sure that we have
got youngsters who are trained across a range of disciplines in a world where
they are likely to be going into an environment where they will be highly

Everything that we do in business should involve a focus on the commercial
reality. That is a very difficult line for people to get right, particularly
given increasing regulation. We have accountants who are increasingly becoming
box tickers rather than commercially aware people.

Certainly for the past five years, within a Scottish context, we have been
running programmes from primary school onwards around the theme ‘it’s cool to be
an entrepreneur’. Those youngsters are not coming into the profession yet, but
in another five to ten years’ time they will be. That’s great in terms of
promoting the need to think commercially, the need to think globally, the need
to understand that business is about making money and not necessarily about
counting the money.

That said, I think it is very difficult for youngsters to be able to show
that they have got a high degree of commerciality, I fully accept that.

No institute is ever going to equip the young people coming through with all
the answers. I think the best any of us can hope to do is provide a framework
for people so that they know how to think, they know how to enquire, they know
how to get to the heart of a situation.

Are compliance and regulation becoming more glamorous?

Jenny Balme, HR director, Grant Thornton

I am not sure if it is more glamorous. I think that the opportunities
available once people have qualified within the profession are still there and
many of them do look to specialise in risk management areas.

But, equally, some want to remain within the audit function, and I think
there are perhaps many more opportunities now to specialise in these areas.

People are picking and choosing. I am not sure that compliance is seen as
glamorous, but some people really enjoy doing it. I can see that it is quite
lucrative and there is a high demand for it and, while that continues, there
will still be people wanting to do it.

I think a few years ago we saw among the graduates coming out of university
that accountancy perhaps wasn’t as popular as it had been, but I think that is
coming back now. Perhaps the profile that it has been receiving has generated
that. It has picked up again now in recent years.

We are all in the market for getting the best graduates onto our training
schemes and part of the difficulty that we have now, and I think it is a good
thing, is that more people are going to university. But, for us as employers, to
be able to pick out the ones that are the best, is more of a challenge.

It is a challenge to get onto the campuses and attract them, but it is also a
challenge to be able to distinguish between those coming through the process,
which is why most firms put in ordinary interviews and additional processes.

It is a competitive market. The demand for accountants continues to grow.
Compliance and other aspects of the economy mean that it doesn’t matter what
sector you are in, there seems to be an insatiable demand.

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