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Glut of Australian accounting graduates means they need to look to Asia, Europe for jobs

Students from Asia are returning in droves to Australian universities, making the country one of the most popular destinations for undergraduates from China and India and providing billions of dollars of revenue, but any hopes they may have of building this into a finance career Down Under are looking less rosy, with experts warning of a glut in accounting graduates in the market.

Accounting related job vacancies are at an all-time low since measurement started in 2006, and the Australian government is being urged to reconsider the inclusion of accounting in the skilled occupation list for would-be migrants.

The Australian has reported that in 2012, some 61% of the total enrollments in accounting were from abroad. More recent data from Immigration Department shows that just over 74,000 foreigners applied to study in Australia during the three months to September 2013 - a 7% increase year-on-year, and the highest number of quarterly applications in four years. Chinese students fuelled the increase, with a 20% rise in the number applying to study, reports news.com.au

Australia now has almost 350,000 international students, with a quarter coming from China and 10% from India. But the labour authorities are concerned about the number of graduates compared to the jobs available, with data showing on average 34 qualified accountants for every vacancy.

Part of the problem, according to the submission to the 2014 review of the skilled occupation list, which comes into effect mid-year, is that employers find many graduates unsuitable due to their poor language skills, says The Australian.

Nick Murphy, regional director of Hays, says there is probably an over-supply as many people want to move but there haven't been many vacancies. "It comes down to different areas - some are busier than others. Anything in regulation or risk-related, there is still a shortage of candidates. And there is demand for accountants who have good experience in driving cost efficiencies."

But suitability is an issue in the local market. Dominic Bareham, manager in financial services accounting, risk, audit & compliance at Morgan McKinley in Sydney points out that there is a difference between a qualified accountant and being qualified for a specific accounting role.
"There are a range of factors that determine someones suitability for an accounting position including; experience, cultural fit, technical abilities and so on," he says. "So whilst there might be a high number of accounting graduates and a low vacancy level this doesn't necessarily give you an indication of how many suitable candidates are available for current vacancies. Often people coming from overseas sought-after skills such as experience in larger financial services markets such as London."
Murphy's suggestion to undergraduate accounting students looking to work in Australia is to try get as much work experience before graduating as they can. The other option, says Bareham, is to look to Asia.
"Australian-qualified accountants are well regarded in overseas market including Asia, UK and the US. This gives these individuals exposure to large international companies, which can often fast track their career. This international exposure will also benefit them if they wish to return to Australia by giving them the edge on their local counterparts."
Both recruiters mentioned 'business partnering' as critical skills sets for accountants to develop to make themselves more employable. Murphy says accountants who can help the business manage costs and improve the overall results is a valuable offering, as is expertise in technology and IT.
Bareham says that while business partnering skills have been in demand in accounting and finance for a few years now, he expects the demand to continue to rise.
"This goes beyond the normal technical skill set of an accountant. Companies are looking for accountants who can see the big picture, and are experts in their industry with a strong understanding of products, distribution methods and customers. You need the social skills to manage demanding internal clients often balancing business unit demands within corporate guidelines."
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AUTHORAmanda Vermeulen
  • Ca
    Caution 457
    20 November 2014

    The sooner Accounting is removed from the Skills Shortage List the better things will be for Australian Accountants. The 457 Visa System is a RORT benefitting Educational Institutions and perhaps even "our" professional bodies: CPA, ICAA & IPA. There is NO SKILLS SHORTAGE of Accountants here in Australia. How do I know this? As an Accountant, yes with professional membership of one of those governing bodies mentioned above, I have been seeking employment for over two years since being made redundant. I have a very small Accounting business bringing in less than $ 10,000 per annum (GROSS). No I'm not in receipt of any Governernment assistance, I want to work not "bludge". I have applied for over 500 jobs without success and have it on good authority from recruiters that several hundred people may apply for one job. So a "skills shortage" or "work choices" with another label. I wonder just how many Accountants here in Australia are aware of the problems. I suspect they may find out if they ever lose their job. I'd like to see those governing bodies tell it how it really is instead of perpetuating the myth. Don't expect any help from having professional membership.

  • Lo
    LostCause
    15 May 2014

    I am an Australian graduate who graduated with a accounting degree in the middle of 2012. I have unfortunately been unable to find any accounting work. Most grad programs have very high requirements from grads applying as there are simply too many accounting grads. Most grad jobs want some one with a Distinction+ average, 2 years relevant experience and to be halfway through their CPA/CA studies.

    I have been studying the CPA for a year and a half and this has not helped me get any form of accounting work. CPA have not provided any assistance when i asked them for help to find work. I have just completed a Microsoft Excel course and i know it wont help me as well.

    Getting jobs like book keeping, accounts payable, accounts clerk are impossible as i am told i dont have experience or i am too overqualified. I have tried calling smaller firm offering to work for free/work experience and all of them said they dont have the capacity to give work experience. The only places that give work experience are the larger firms but they are just for second year uni students.

    Also in regards to smaller firms: they are notorious for hiring international students and paying them poor wages. These firms pay international grads 25-30k a year, and the partners/directors like them because they are very submissive and more desperate for work then australians. How do i know this? When i go to CPA events i meet my old university friends (who are internationals) and they have grad roles in these places. I went for a job interview at a small suburban firm which had a salary of only 25k and there were 10 chinese students waiting in line to be interveiwed.
    I beleive even Telstra has changed their rules and allowed international students with no PR to apply for there graduate program.

    Small firms also like to pay international accountants from say the UK or NZ that are CA's small wages because they are desperate for work, instead of hiring australians or even hiring grads and training them up.

    Accounting in australia is a joke and dead end. CPA and CA should be looking after australian accountants but they just want to destroy our industry. What a joke

  • So
    Sole Practicioner
    1 May 2014

    I agree completely that there is an oversupply of accountants from all over, because any accounting work regardless of the field tax, bookkeeping, consulting, etc. First of all accounting is really not that hard, the roles are often overly promoted to look fancy, but at the end of the day its repetitive work that I could teach a mature high school student to do without any qualifications. Also the CA/CPA over-emphasize that there is an undersupply of accountants just maintain and increase fee levels for the members so people on their executive boards can maintain their high salaries.

  • Ex
    Explorer
    4 April 2014

    Absolutely no doubt - there is a massive oversupply of qualified and experienced accountants in Australia - unless you have very niche skills the competition is intense. It is not uncommon for 200 - 300 applicants to respond to a vacancy on Seek. Recruitment consultants are often overwhelmed by the number of qualified and experienced candidates. A significant number of senior candidates (10 years + experience in management roles) are unemployed and looking for work. In a very tight market employer's are applying increasingly stringent criteria in the recruitment process.
    This is not an issue of qualifications or experience – it's simply that with the exception of a few niche areas the market for accountants is now saturated.
    At the same time the gap between market reality and perception in some quarters is bewildering- Australia's peak accounting bodies recently pushed back against a proposal to remove accountants from skills in demand list for immigration.
    Overseas Australia is being sold to accountants as a land of milk and honey where accountants are in short supply - take this article headline "Strong job prospects for accountants in Australia" published in CIMA's Insight February 2014
    The oversupply will take a long time to resolve - especially in a faltering economy – but the longer it takes to recognise and take steps to resolve – the more serious it will become.

  • an
    anonymous
    7 February 2014

    All professional staff aim to be the best in their chosen career, improving, honing their skills. When they know they are at the top of their game, they don't expect to be taken out by this type of nonsense. It a fair go, non nonsense culture, ability, performance and skill based.

    When we look to the olympics over the next few weeks, I am sure the medals will be based on performance, ability, years of honing their skills, and the olympians don't expect to be taken off the podium, or from the starting line because the numbers are against them, or the judge has a niece or nephew who would like to run and deserves a place, younger, or better looking, and just looks so snappy with the attitude.

    These special selections are the ones that will cost the business (country) large sums of money, and financial distress. I've seen it many times.

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