The post-qualification journey of a CA(SA) makes available a broad landscape of career choices. Beyond the well-structured boundaries of TIPP (Training in Public Practice) and TOPP (Training Outside Public Practice) lies unmapped territory which we must navigate by looking to ourselves for co-ordinates. As we add the title of cartographer to our list of credits, we may also take on an apprenticeship with more experienced mapmakers. What we learn is how to calibrate our internal compass.
The SAICA mentorship programme is a community comprising individuals and smaller groups − ambassadors, mentors, mentees and leadership development experts. As leadership development and coaching experts, Joanne Searle and Matt Shelley of the Sandton Coaching Centre have invested the programme with their expertise and provided training to the programme’s ambassadors, mentors and mentees.
Ambassadors are mentors and mentees who have developed in their current roles and accepted the additional challenge of developing the programme along with its core group of champions. As a mentorship version of Marvel’s ‘Justice League’, ambassadors like Sanjay Soni have assisted with the planning and strategy for the programme and taken on facilitation duties at mentorship engagements. For mentors, training has included learning how to guide mentees along their journeys with a focus holding mentees accountable for conceptualising their options and ultimately making the necessary decisions. Mentees are also guided through experiential learning opportunities by which they focus on getting the most out of their mentee-mentor relationship and, the group sessions with other mentees. These lessons shape early-career stage CAs(SA) towards developing confidence and competence in their decision-making abilities.
Tools for charting your journey
These are some of the tools which Searle has made first-hand use of as a CA(SA) who charted a post-qualification path towards psychotherapy and coaching.
You can’t know until you have experience. There are no wrong choices
As one of the driving forces behind the SAICA mentorship programme, Joanne Searle advocates for an experimental mindset towards exploring the broad spectrum of post-qualification choices available to CAs(SA). This means engaging meaningfully with the skills characterised as being ‘softer’ in relation to the ‘hard’ technical skills on which the profession is focused. For Searle (a qualified chartered accountant since 1988) exposure to training in the former helped to calibrate her internal compass. Her post-qualification exemplifies her belief that ‘you can’t know until you have an experience’. This experimental approach to navigating the world beyond the well-defined qualification journey gives meaning to the words of the painter and architect Kazimir Malevich explaining that ‘We can only perceive space when we break free from the earth when the point of support disappears.’
While on secondment to Coopers & Lybrand (currently known as PwC) in London in 1989, Searle noted the extent to which UK employers take responsibility for the overall training – in technical and social skills – of candidates for the UK chartered accountancy designation, who are not required to obtain accountancy or related degrees before beginning a training contract. Exposure to this personal development approach inspired Searle’s desire to reskill in the coaching discipline six years later. Her forays into auditing, management accountancy and coaching demonstrate a commitment to trusting oneself to navigate the broad spectrum of opportunities available more meaningfully. This part of the post-qualification journey can seem lonely – something which the mentorship programme addresses by providing access to a community of peers and more experienced pathfinders. While going through the decision-making process of carving out a unique pathway to relevance, Searle encourages CAs(SA) in the early stages of their post-qualification careers to adopt the mindset that ‘there are no wrong choices’.
Navigating the loneliness of following a unique path is something which comes up in my discussion with Sanjay Soni (mentor and ambassador) about his career trajectory. As a mentor and ambassador on the mentorship programme, Soni brings his experience as a CA(SA) who has worked in corporate finance, tourism and financial investments. He is currently an executive director at the Blacklite Group which specialises in consulting and coaching. In addition to his experience in high-level decision-making and change management, Soni has a passion for development which has its roots in his own experiences of being mentored. As someone who has experienced the benefit of a mentor’s investment of time and support, this entrepreneur and investor has joined the mentorship programme to continue the tradition of paying it forward.
Don’t be in a hurry to get somewhere as a CA(SA)
Having joined the mentorship programme as a mentor at the tail-end of 2017, Soni (as part of the first group of ambassadors) joined Joanne Searle and Matt Shelley of the Sandton Coaching Centre at the drawing board, where the pilot programme was transformed into a vision for a long-term mentorship intervention. His main piece of advice to CAs(SA) entering the phase of more autonomous career-driving reflects his beliefs about lifelong learning: ‘Don’t be in a hurry to get somewhere as a CA(SA). You could miss out on an opportunity to develop right where you are.’
This view reflects the value of SAICA’s revised approach to continuous professional development under the ‘CA2025 Pathways to Relevance’ banner.
The project adds ‘lifelong learning’ to the set of existing professional values of the profession and shifts the focus away from input (hours spent learning) to reflection on what we have learned. For Soni, this means adopting an attitude of continuous learning beyond the familiar areas of financial accounting, audit, tax and management accounting. It means developing a desire to better oneself through CPD and a multi-faceted set of resources including courses, books, short content programmes, social interactions and, reading. For the COVID-19 context, Soni suggests additional sources of learning such as webinars and video-conferenced ‘coffee chats’. For Joanne Searle, it means asking oneself ‘how do I stretch and grow myself?’.
This short insight into the programme’s values and some of the people involved in bringing them to life demonstrates the value of experiential learning. It also indicates the extent to which the programme’s structure enables long-term participation by mentees, who may develop into future mentors or ambassadors, able to reinvest the lessons from their training into future participants. As a participant in the mentorship programme, the conversations I had with contributors to this article reminded me of my own post-qualification journey, particularly how my beliefs have developed since I set out to become a CA(SA).
Between common-sense and intuition lies a unique pathway
At the end of my high school years, I encountered one of the toughest decisions of my existence up to now – what to study at university. After a tussle between my intuition and common-sense, I acted on the results of my own South African economy survey. After vetting my options with only the people I already knew using the beliefs we shared, I set in motion a chain of events which led me through some hard-earned but valuable lessons. Towards the tail-end of my journey to achieving the CA(SA) designation, I learned another − credentials are only the beginning. There are more challenging choices to be made and this time, the guidance comes from a broader set of research sources and relationships, including those forged through the mentorship programme.
Overall, these have helped me to calibrate my internal compass to a different philosophy. It is borrowed from Howard Thurman − a theologian and one of the inspirations behind the leadership development journey of Martin Luther King Jr: ‘Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.’
AUTHOR | Mandisa Mpulo