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Special Report – Employees

Turning the tide on the skills shortage

As dire as the skills scarcity in the accounting profession is, there’s hope in the form of mentors who could just provide the lifeline our sector needs to survive

The skills shortage in South Africa’s financial sector has reached critical level, with industries like the accounting sector being among those hardest hit.

Consider that in 2008, research findings by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) revealed a shortage of 5 000 chartered accountants and more than 12 000 other accountants of varying levels. But that was six years ago; the 5 per cent annual growth rate of the profession means those disparities are most likely even larger today. It’s clear that this limited growth rate is not sufficient to address the skills crisis.

Added to this, of the approximately

36 300 chartered accountants in South Africa today, only about 21 per cent are black (that is, African, Coloured and Indian). Although we are seeing more young black CAs(SA) coming through the system, their numbers remain disturbingly low. Granted, SAICA and other professional bodies are working hard to develop potential CAs(SA) from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. But despite this, a gap still remains to drive real change in our sector; a gap I believe should be filled by professional CAs(SA) prepared to act as motivational and inspirational mentors.

A living example to aspiring professionals, mentors can truly have a powerfully positive effect on others. They embody the truth of the statement, “where you come from doesn’t have to influence where you are going”, and nowhere is this more important than in our industry with its dearth of black professionals.

There’s a case to be made for mentoring at virtually every level in the CA(SA) career path, from school right through tertiary education level to young accountants starting out in their first jobs.

We need to start from the ground up, and that means addressing our dismal matric maths pass rate. Here, mentors should guide learners around their subject choices and encourage those with an affinity for the subjects to actively pursue maths and science. Tutors could assist with academic support to ensure the necessary pass rates are achieved.

At tertiary level, mentors have a valuable role to play in helping learners overcome many of the obstacles responsible for our high university drop-out rate. These include language issues, the prohibitive costs of tertiary education, and poor access to information.

Post university, young accountants still need a helping hand. For many this is the most important mentoring level, as the mentor is pivotal in shortening the learning curve between theoretical “book” knowledge and practical business application, helping the mentee successfully transition from learner to young professional.

Black mentors are particularly important for young black CAs(SA) just entering the industry, as they assume the position of role models that the mentees can directly relate to. Recognising a mentor as someone who “knows where I’m coming from” or who “understands the challenges I’m facing” can have an overwhelmingly positive effect on the sometimes fragile young professional.

The benefits of a mentoring relationship for young CAs(SA) are clear, but how does one go about establishing such a relationship?

Potential mentors should get involved with schools and varsities in their area or their old alma maters and “adopt” a learner who is serious about pursuing an accounting career. At professional level they can look to their own firm for opportunities to coach young new arrivals or, if the capacity exists, consider establishing a mentorship programme within their own organisation.

Mentees may have to take the initiative themselves to build such a relationship. The first step is identifying someone they aspire to be like. Then they should take advantage of opportunities to spend time with that person and ask questions like “What do you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first started out?”, “What are some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome in building your career?” or “How did you obtain important experience/assignments within your organisation?”

Mentees should also demonstrate their trustworthiness, reliability, positive work ethic and ability to work well with others in attracting the attention of potential mentors. They should let their performance speak for itself without being arrogant, and work hard to prove their willingness and enthusiasm to learn and be coached.

Government, business, academic institutions and communities all have a role to play in addressing the ongoing skills challenge in the accounting profession. However, without black mentors and role models specifically coming to the fore to proactively guide our future CAs(SA), these efforts will continue to be hampered. ❐

Paradigm shift in talent management required

If your organisation doesn’t rethink its approach to recruiting and managing talent, it will forever lose its competitive edge in the race for growth

Ask any hiring manager and they will all tell you the same thing: hiring the right people for your organisation is now more important than ever. The widening gap in skills has been an ongoing issue for several years now and along with concerns regarding the level of education and a drop in efficiency in maths, accounting and science, the competition is fiercer than ever.

Clearly, if businesses are to remain competitive, they need talented people. But they also need the right skills and there is growing evidence of a shift in talent where certain skills are becoming old or useless.

A report by Ernst & Young points out that time and again, research has shown that organisations are not identifying or investing enough in the critical talent they need to drive their businesses forward.1

Business is increasingly becoming about managing a team of champions, as opposed to a champion team.

Today’s marketplace is more and more complex and companies need to build up talent on multiple fronts. It is therefore vitally important for talent management professionals to stay on top of the trends that can affect their company’s success.


The traditional team dynamic of 30 years ago – which many Baby Boomers remember well – isn’t the same as that of today. A key reason for this is that it has become increasingly uncommon for people to spend their careers at one, two, or even three organisations. The new generation of workers is more diverse, mobile, and digitally connected, and motivated by flexibility, development opportunities, and empowerment. Organisations will have to take a more individualised approach as they compete to fill the talent gap.


Progressive thinking companies already realise that, with the rapid pace of change hiring for today’s skills, workforces could become quickly obsolete. This year will see a focus on not just hiring for the job at hand, but preparing for what is needed next. This will require assessing future needs and scrutinising companies’ current talent inventory to identify “hidden talent”.


People are using mobile devices to maximise every moment of their lives, cramming in more content and more consumption. This connectivity allows them to openly discuss products, services, and work experiences. Talented employees are no longer restricted by traditional borders. For many there is an opportunity to decide not just for whom to work, but where to work. This places a renewed focus on branding and the importance to manage your company image in order to attract future talent.

The truth is that today’s war for talent is rapidly changing. Bigger pay packages and elite backgrounds no longer offer a clear path to success. Business leaders who implement the best talent management and recruitment processes are more prepared than their competitors to compete in the global economy and capitalise quickly on new opportunities.


Here are some tips on recruiting the best talent:

  • Continuously look for talent: The key to finding top talent is to always be on the lookout for it, regardless if you have a current vacancy on your team or not. Many people start the recruiting process too late and hire the wrong people because they run out of time in terms of filling the position. It’s important to be proactive in terms of your skills needs within your team and allow sufficient time to find the right fit.
  • Source talent innovatively: Gone are the days when a simple job posting in a trade magazine or newspaper would attract all candidates in the relevant talent pool. In today’s connected, high-tech, globalised talent marketplace you require more innovative techniques to ensure you find the right talent. It requires a variety of skills that include online, social media, and networking within the right communities to allow you to rub shoulders with the best of the best.
  • Change your focus: Recruiters and human resource departments are no longer just there to find talent but they are there to attract talent. Their role is just as much one of selling: selling the opportunity, the company and all the benefits that go with that.  ❐


1 See http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/Building_a_new_talent_management_model/$FILE/Talent%20-%20Building%20a%20new%20talent%20management%20model.pdf.

The mid-career crisis

Do you wake up in the morning questioning the value of your work and the meaning of life in general? Maybe it’s time for that career change after all …

author: nelmari smuts

You have spent the first half of your life studying towards becoming a chartered accountant. You have put in extra hours at the office in order to climb the corporate ladder and achieve what you believed would make you happy: promotions, more money and recognition. But now you are halfway through your life and you find that you no longer look forward to going to work. You dread Mondays and have even started putting in sick leave when you are actually quite healthy. You long to just quit and rather pursue your dream job of becoming a winemaker or interior decorator or even astronomer. But when you awake from your day-dreaming, you realise that you are stuck because you have a spouse and children to support and financial responsibilities to fulfil.

In an article in Harvard Business Review (April 2002) titled ‘Reawakening your passion for work’, Richard Boyatzis, Annie McKee and Daniel Goleman list the feelings which alert you to the fact that it’s time to take a serious look at your career:

  • Feeling trapped: Sometimes a job that was fulfilling gradually becomes less meaningful, slowly eroding your enthusiasm and spirit until you no longer find much purpose in your work. People often describe this state as feeling trapped. They’re restless, yet they can’t seem to change – or even articulate what’s wrong.
  • Feeling bored: Many people confuse achieving day-to-day business goals with performing truly satisfying work, so they continue setting and achieving new goals – until it dawns on them that they are bored. People are often truly shaken by this revelation; they feel as if they have just emerged from a spiritual blackout.
  • I don’t recognise myself anymore: Some people gradually adjust to the let-downs, frustrations, and even boredom of their work until they surrender to a routine that’s incompatible with who they are and what they truly want.
  • I won’t compromise my ethics: The signal to take stock may come to people in the form of a challenge to what they feel is right.
  • I can’t ignore the call: A wake-up call can come in the form of a mission: an irresistible force that compels people to step out, step up, and take on a challenge. It is as if they suddenly recognise what they are meant to do and cannot ignore it any longer.
  • Life’s too short: Sometimes it takes a traumatic experience, large or small, to jolt people into taking a hard look at their lives. Such an awakening may be the result of a heart attack, the loss of a loved one, or a world tragedy. It can also be the result of something less dramatic, like adjusting to an empty nest or celebrating a significant birthday. Priorities can become crystal clear at times like these and things that seemed important weeks, days, or even minutes ago no longer matter.

If you can identify with these feelings you are one of the growing number of people struggling with a mid-career crisis. HRDictionary.com defines a mid-career crisis as “a point in the middle of someone’s career when they have to decide what to do in the future”. But once you have come to the realisation that it’s time for a career change, the next obstacle is how to make that change.

Herminia Ibarra, professor of organisational behaviour at Insead in Fontainebleau, France, explored this predicament in her article ‘How to stay stuck in the wrong career’ in Harvard Business Review (December 2002). She found there are two options when you are contemplating a major career change.


The first option is the traditional ‘plan and implement’ approach whereby you:

  • Assess your interests, skills and experience
  • Identify appropriate jobs
  • Consult friends, colleagues and career counsellors, and
  • Take the plunge

This all sounds reasonable, but Ibarra has found that many people try a traditional approach and then languish for months, if not years. This isn’t because they are unwilling to change. Many make serious attempts to reinvent themselves, devoting large amounts of time and energy to the process at great professional and personal risk. But despite these efforts they remain stuck in the wrong careers, not living up to their potential and sacrificing professional fulfilment.

According to Ibarra, academics and career counsellors concluded that the problem lies with the fact that we fear change, lack readiness, and are unwilling to make sacrifices and sabotage ourselves. But she reached a different conclusion: people most often fail because they go about it the wrong way. The problem lies in their methods and not their motives. Consequently, she identified a second career change method.


The second option is the “test and learn” approach whereby you take action instead of planning indefinitely. This way you will reinvent your “working identity”, which Ibarra defines as your sense of who you are as a professional, by experimenting with who you could be. This means that you put several “working identities” into practice, refining them until they are sufficiently grounded in experience to inspire more decisive steps. We learn who we have become in practice and not in theory by testing fantasy and reality and not through introspection. She recommends the following tactics:

  • Craft experiments: Play with new professional roles on a limited but tangible scale, without compromising your current job. Try freelance assignments or do pro bono work. Use sabbaticals or extended vacations to explore new directions.
  • Shift connections: Strangers can best help you see who you are becoming, providing fresh ideas unaffected by your current career. Make new connections by working for people you have long admired and can learn from. Find people through alumni or company networks who can help you grow into your possible new selves. Speak to people who are currently doing what you are considering doing.
  • Make sense: Infuse events with special meaning. Weave them into a story about who you are becoming. Relate that story publicly. You will clarify your intentions, stay motivated and inspire others’ support.

As much as we want to avoid endless procrastination when it comes to career change, making drastic changes in haste is not the answer. It takes time to discover what we truly want to change and to identify the behaviours and expectations that are holding us back. Ibarra notes that most career transitions take about three years and rarely follow a linear path, as we take two steps forward and one step back. But often we are surprised by where we end up.

Most of us know that we are trying to escape the rut of a narrowly defined career, uninspiring work, numbing office politics, and lack of time for life outside work. Dale Carnegie once said: “Take a chance! All life is a chance. The man who goes furthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare.” So what are you waiting for? ❐

author: niteske marshall