When are pervasive skills developed: in the academic, training, or professional programme? Monique Strauss-Keevy and Denise Maré investigated

Pervasive skills are the so-called soft skills, which are defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people’. Pervasive skills are also referred to as non-technical skills, employability skills, behavioural skills, and interpersonal skills. At SAICA, these skills are referred to as the ‘how’ of a CA(SA)’s work, which is set out in three categories: ethical behaviour and professionalism; personal attributes; and professional skills (see box below). These skills are therefore paramount to the profile of a CA(SA), since being only technically competent no longer meets the standards in the working environment.

SAICA embarked on a journey as far back as 2006 to make the future CA(SA) relevant. Part of the new qualification model was the introduction of a Competency Framework, which required the academic and training programme to ensure that aspirant CAs(SA) are equipped with all the competencies as set out in the Competency Framework at the entry point into the profession.

Consequently, two senior lecturers at the University of Johannesburg asked candidates at what stage in their qualification process they perceived these pervasive skills to have been developed – during the academic, the training and/or the professional programme – and what facilitated the development of these skills.

In November 2014, 2 050 candidates attempted the first competency-based assessment, the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC). These candidates were assessed primarily on their pervasive skills, but within a technical context. Candidates who wrote the first APC subsequently were asked for their comments in a questionnaire, which obtained a response rate of 66%. The results of some of the questions are set out in the graphs below.


We asked candidates …

To what extent they agreed with the statement in Graph 1 on the next page.

Pervasive skills_Graph1 (2)

It was reassuring to note that 88% (41% + 47%) of the candidates felt that they were familiar with the content of SAICA’s Competency Framework and that 85% (41% + 44%) were familiar with the pervasive skills. In addition, the majority of candidates felt that they had developed the necessary pervasive skills and were assessed on these skills. Candidates made the following remarks in the comment boxes pertaining to these questions:

  • ‘I honestly feel that the new APC exam is a brilliant new stepping stone on our way to achieving our final goal in qualifying as a CA(SA). It tested our ability to think outside of the box and moves away from the ”old” way of testing our theoretical knowledge over and over again. It truly tests our sense for business and logical thinking.’
  • ‘It enabled me to think not only about the technical issues that we might need to address, but all the necessary skills including the emphasis on the communication between all the different levels of a company management.’
  • ‘The APC programme did assess me on pervasive skills and also attempted to refine my pervasive skills.’
  • ‘I feel that the new APC prepares us as upcoming CA(SA)s to not just be technical but to be able to understand business from a risk and strategic point of view.’
We asked candidates to … Rank the effectiveness of the vehicles that developed their pervasive skills (Graph 2):

Pervasive skills_ Graph2 (2)


We asked candidates to … Rank the effectiveness of the vehicles that developed their life-long learning ability (Graph 3):

Pervasive skills_ Graph 3

A combination of the academic, professional and training programmes was identified as the most valuable vehicle for developing pervasive skills. Comments from candidates included the following:

  • ‘Mingling with senior, experienced CAs(SA) exposes us to pervasive skills and sets an example for us to follow.’
  • ‘Pervasive skills were a major focus of university studies.’
  • ‘There is a lot of material to cover at university. A separate course is not necessary, but inclusion in the compulsory courses might be useful. The best place to learn practically is during the training programme.’
  • ‘I fully agree that universities should take responsibility for developing this skill. This skill should then be refined at a training programme.’

Concerning life-long learning, the candidates asserted that a combination of the academic, professional and training programmes is essential in creating a culture of life-long learning within the chartered accountancy profession. This provides conclusive evidence that SAICA’s entire qualification process is pivotal in shaping well-rounded CAs(SA) of the future.

We asked candidates to … Rank the technical subject areas covered during their academic programme that contributed to their development of their pervasive skills (see Graph 4 on next page). Graph4 (2)

The candidates viewed (1) strategy, risk management and governance; (2) accounting and external reporting; and (3) financial management as the three most prominent subject areas that honed their pervasive skills.

We asked candidates to… Rank the methods during their academic programme that contributed most to their development of pervasive skills (Graph 5):

Pervasive skills_Graph5 (2)

In addition, we asked candidates to … Rank the methods during their training programme that contributed most to their development of pervasive skills (Graph 6): Graph6 (2)

From an academic programme perspective, candidates felt that pervasive skills were best developed during case studies and small groups/collaborative learning such as tutorials and formal lectures. However, during the candidates’ training programme, they identified on-the-job experience, working in a team, and contact with senior employees as the most valuable methods of developing pervasive skills. When accrediting the academic, professional and training programmes, SAICA should consider whether these methods are readily used.

This research highlights the need for academics to share methods and/or techniques that they found successful in the development of pervasive skills. Furthermore, these findings provide for potential collaboration between SAICA and academics on the development of usable case studies and small-group exercises that result in the development of pervasive skills.

In the words of Peggy Klaus: ‘Soft skills get very little respect but will make or break your career.’ Author:

Monique Strauss-Keevy CA(SA) and Denise Maré CA(SA) are senior lecturers at the University of Johannesburg