Being an accountant in 2019 is a totally different ballgame to working in the sector five years ago and looking ahead to five years’ time, it will have evolved and advanced further still. My son thinks I just count people’s money, and I’ve often been asked “don’t you just file tax returns?”, both of which are common misconceptions outside of our industry.
With the sector rapidly moving forward, the skills and knowledge needed to be an accountant, and to future proof the sector, is far from being a grade A maths student – to be honest, I can’t remember the last time I added something up!
What’s the biggest misconception younger people have when considering becoming an accountant?
Young people think if you’re good at maths and numbers you’ll automatically be good at accountancy. This may have been accurate 20+ years ago but this is far from the role today. You have to be a good listener, a problem solver and a strong communicator. There is still an element of technical expertise, however the skills required now are a lot broader. Another major misconception is that you have to have a degree if you want to become an accountant; there are other routes to entering the profession such as joining as an apprentice rather than a graduate.
What will attract young people into the industry?
Teachers, lecturers, parents and anyone in a position to inform and help younger people understand the day-to-day role of an accountant will attract people into the industry. Although degrees aren’t necessary, there is a need for accountants who are strong communicators and problem solvers but still have the knowledge and required accountant qualifications (e.g. AAT/ACA/CTA). The more individuals that understand the day-to-day role of the accountant such as meeting new clients, working and leading a team, developing new ideas, understanding different businesses, bringing different skills such as tech or communication expertise, and not the myth of ‘just counting money’, the more these younger people will be attracted into the industry.
What challenges do school children thinking of a career in the sector face, and what challenges will need to be overcome over the next 10 years?
Accountants currently in the profession can be the ones putting up the biggest barriers – we are working in a period of huge change and don’t necessarily know where the sector is heading. We need to work collaboratively with young people to find out what they think and discover what valuable skills they’ll be bringing to the profession. Over the next 10 years there will undoubtedly be new opportunities, new competition and other avenues to explore, but right now I think we need to communicate across different generations to collectively bring the people and the skills together.
It can be challenging to ensure relevant skills are being taught and identified to future accountants, in particular when it comes to schools, colleges and universities teaching key components of the industry. As a whole, younger people need to understand they don’t necessarily have to be brilliant number crunchers in order to become an accountant.
Important skills and characteristics accountants look for:
- Tech / IT
- People skills
- Problem solving
- Good listener
- Team player
- People person
- Drive and determination
The traditional accounting environment and skillset doesn’t exist anymore. It is now all about talking, listening and relationship building, not sitting behind a computer doing tax returns and preparing accounts. We’re now pulling people out of the day-to-day role and encouraging them to think about strategy, structure, finances, where the business will be in 5 – 10 years’ time. It’s all about checking in and making sure clients are on track.
Historically traditional accountants looked backwards, evaluating what’s happened and talking about historic results. Now that business’ have their results at the touch of a button, we’re all about looking forward, focusing on a strategy to make sure the business owners reach their goals.
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