One direct result of China's robust economic growth has been the surge in demand for audit and accounting professionals, as well as for business advisory services. Major firms in the sector have been fighting something of a "talent war" to hire and hold on to qualified staff, but they have been directing greater attention to developing a pool of up and coming executives who will be able to support future business growth.
In this respect, leading firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu now has two major programmes specifically to train new blood — one for interns still at university and the other for graduate trainees.
The internship programme is run twice a year, from January to April and from May to August. It is open to undergraduates in their penultimate or final year, and most applicants tend to be from accounting discipline.
John Rasheed, partner, learning, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, explains that interns start with two weeks of formal training in which they are taught technical aspects of accounting. They then join different teams and handle proper business assignments which allow them to apply what they have learnt.
You have to be dynamic, mobile and ready to travel
The majority of these job attachments are in Hong Kong and in the areas of audit and taxation, which are the firm's two largest functions. However, it also provides consulting services in all aspects of enterprise transformation, as well as financial advisory services for corporations, capital raising, forensic investigation, and assistance with insolvency.
"All interns are assigned a buddy to provide professional and personal support," says Mr Rasheed. "The programme covers all the essentials for accounting practice and ensures that interns get experience doing work they can handle, without exposing the firm to any undue risk."
The basics of the graduate programme are somewhat similar but, understandably, it is more comprehensive. The initial classroom training lasts for three weeks and things are then geared to giving each graduate the support needed to prepare for and pass their CPA examinations. Practical help is offered by the "godparent" system, under which each graduate is paired with a colleague who is a year or two ahead in the firm.
"The elder person can understand the problems and is in a position to provide good advice," Mr Rasheed notes. Candidates from any discipline can apply for the graduate programme. In fact, the firm is keen to encourage diversity, seeing this as a way of strengthening the business and ultimately building stronger teams. However, anyone planning to apply should possess certain important qualities. They must enjoy working with people, be team players, client-orientated, open to challenges and have good problem-solving skills.
"You shouldn't just be looking for a stable job, but ought to be enthusiastic about dealing with changes, interested in meeting different clients, and ready to learn about all our services from audit and taxation to corporate finance and consulting," Mr Rashid says.
He adds that accountants must keep learning in today's knowledge-based society so as to meet the need for constant business growth. "Besides that, you have to be dynamic, mobile and ready to travel," he says. It usually takes about three years to obtain the professional qualification to practise as an accountant, opening the way to broader opportunities in audit, taxation or corporate finance, and perhaps even a move to the mainland or an international office.
Future career development is, of course, closely linked to one's professional ability and attainments. As an example, it is therefore important for qualified accountants to keep improving their technical knowledge, as well as to strengthen their general management and leadership skills.
Mr Rasheed says the firm has an advantage in being able to offer staff the chance to work alongside many of the world's top companies, including roughly one-third of the companies listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange.
"Apart from giving wide exposure, we provide structured development to let staff grow personally, professionally and technically," he adds.
Essential qualities for today's accountants
- Enjoy dealing with people
- Open to challenges
- Ready to keep learning and growing
- Enthusiastic, dynamic and mobile