We continue to grapple with the pervasive shortage of qualified professionals and sound accounting skills across the country. The emigration of skilled professionals, coupled with an inadequate pipeline of qualifying Chartered Accountants are two of the pressing issues that the profession faces today. Dealing with both challenges is complex and is often beyond the reach of just the profession and the Institute.
SAICA, together with its various partners has embarked on various initiatives in an attempt to deal positively with both issues. The issue of emigrating Chartered Accountants is one that is difficult to remedy in the short term. We engage with our members abroad regularly and repeat consistently the positives and good news stories coming out of the country. We will also be releasing a publication outlining the good news stories in the country with the aim of reminding people of the positives and, in so doing, endeavur convince people to return to our country. Our engagement with government and other stakeholders on issues of safety, security and education are important and will continue. These are pervasive, deep rooted challenges that require consistent interaction with all concerned in order to find a permanent solution. The resolution of these issues in an effective manner will contribute most to the retention of skills in this country.
On the other front, through our Thuthuka initiatives, we are now beginning to see the fruits of the investment made by the profession and its partners over the past few years. Our first batch of students wrote their QE1 examinations this past year with phenomenal results. We are optimistic that that trend will continue.
As at the end of 2007, the Thuthuka programmes had seen the following successes:
Of the over 1 500 African and coloured students studying on the Thuthuka undergraduate programmes:
- Thuthuka students are achieving the following commendable
- 1st year – 88%
- 2nd year – 83%
- 3rd year – 67%
- 276 students recruited for 2008
- 43 Thuthuka students entering the certificate in Theory of Accounting level in 2008
- 6 universities participating in the Thuthuka programme
- 71 committed donors contributing funds to the Thuthuka Bursary Fund
- The first Thuthuka Chartered Accountants expected to qualify in 2011.
Our primary challenge, however, remains the consistent inflow of learners through the school system and into the universities. The throughput of students at university is a further challenge, and one that the Thuthuka Board of Directors has recognised. To that end, we are refocusing much of our efforts towards improving the throughput pass percentages at our accredited universities.
We will continue to focus much of our effort at school level where we continue to endeavour to assist in improving the levels of numeracy and literacy. We continue to engage with the Department of Education on the issue of mathematical literacy at school level and the acceptability or non-acceptability thereof for admission to tertiary institutions. Non-acceptability of mathematical literacy at universities will significantly negatively impact the number of learners entering tertiary institutions over the next few years with a knock-on effect to most professions, including engineering, medicine, etc.
Given that background, the issue of transformation is still one that attracts vigorous debate. The quantum of the absolute skills shortage and the quantum of the black African skills shortage is one that we continue to debate. There are views that state that the shortage of black African Chartered Accountants is an artificial one. Proponents of this view articulate the shortage as being a function of movement within the market by African Chartered Accountants and the marginalisation by many traditionally white organisations of African employees. Others are of the view that the shortage of black Chartered Accountants is a lesser issue, with the absolute shortage of Chartered Accountants being the larger issue. SAICA is currently conducting research to identify the quantum of the shortage across the country. The research is being conducted regionally and nationally, and will talk to the skills shortage at all levels – not just Chartered Accountants. This is critical if we as a profession are ever to address the shortage of accounting skills across the spectrum. The development of a sustainable and sound infrastructure across the economy is dependent on the development of a sound skills base from clerical through to professional levels. The shortage of basic sound accounting knowledge is evident at all these levels and is critical to ensuring sound financial management.
Our strategy as a profession is clear in addressing this issue. SAICA, during the course of 2007, has assisted government in identifying and developing accounting technicians. The pilot project has been extremely successful and will be further rolled out in the current year. We will communicate more in this regard as 2008 unfolds.
The main point, however, is that we must continue to engage with our stakeholders on issues such as these and, as a profession, give of our time and expertise to assist in constructively identifying solutions to these problems. I pride myself on belonging to a group of professionals that proactively stand up and contribute to social and economic issues without just criticising from the back benches. Long may this continue.
Nazeer Wadee CA(SA) is Chief Operating Officer, SAICA.