According to recent research, there is a talent shortage gap of about 10 to 15 per cent in the local accounting profession, whereas more than 170,000 additional qualified accountants are needed in mainland China today.
"In the past, accountants were asked to go north for business trips, yet today, they are requesting work experience across the border," reveals Lindy Yau, member of board, Hong Kong Institute of Accredited Accounting Technicians (HKIAAT), a subsidiary of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA).
Ms Yau advises accounting professionals to enhance their skill sets in spite of mounting demand on the mainland as accounting firms seek core competencies like communication skills, language proficiency and multi-disciplinary know-how. It is only a matter of time before China qualified accountants gain similar status to their Hong Kong qualified counterparts, so remaining one step ahead is crucial long-term.
This is where HKIAAT can offer support. In grooming young people to confront the accounting profession head on, HKIAAT distils industry core values into a professional qualification for accounting technicians.
Bridging the gap between a CPA and a certified accounts clerk (CAC), accredited accounting technicians (AATs) play an intermediate role in maintaining accounting records, processing management information and preparing financial analyses. They constitute the backbone of the industry as a whole, undertaking elementary to mid-level positions in every Hong Kong corporate sector.
Local knowledge is the highlight of the accreditation programme's syllabus. Since the programme is specifically tailored for Hong Kong, AATs-to-be enjoy a customised curriculum which includes practical hands-on experience immediately valuable in the field.
In addition to local adaptation, the programme also focuses on honing business acumen. Participants are trained in multiple disciplines encompassing financial accounting, taxation and business law. To complement technical skills training, soft skills workshops play a role to enhance competency in areas such as stress management and business communications.
The qualification is widely recognised by employers, government, professional bodies and universities. Students of the HKIAAT enjoy high flexibility with regards to study mode —s tudying part-time or full-time, allowing work and learning to take place simultaneously.
Ms Yau underlines that attention to details and problem solving skills are two of the key attributes to career success. The latter is highly valued since AATs often confront practical problems which are not necessarily confined to the scope of accounting.
Due to the broader nature of the accounting technician's role particularly in smaller firms, AATs tend to play a more overarching role and often take on supervisory or even managerial duties in the company.
Graduates from the HKIAAT programme and members of the organisation are provided with support for career development as well as further professional development. They are also conferred advanced standing from various degree programmes organised by both local and overseas universities. Since the first AAT test was launched in 1989, more than 80,000 students have taken the exam, while the current student population exceeds 6,000.
To help further enhance professionalism within the industry and the competency of its members, HKIAAT has upped the ante. In June 2009, HKIAAT will launch a new qualification framework comprising specific requirements for membership admission to the organisation. Three central elements of the new framework include the AAT exam which fortifies the knowledge base, professional assessment which highlights the significance of business values and practical experience which aims to sharpen hands-on skills.
Value-added services are also a feature of HKIAAT's crusade. In terms of career development, the HKIAAT offers CPD (continuing professional development) programmes regularly to its members to ensure they maintain and enrich their professional competence. Employment placement services are also provided free for employers and AATs alike. Regular visits to local and mainland accounting firms serve as "tasters" where participants can experience an authentic working environment first-hand.
To commemorate the HKIAAT 20th anniversary this year, the organisation will also launch a new scholarship scheme to encourage bright youngsters to study accountancy. "AATs have so far proved to be valuable assets to employers who have in turn lauded our approach to proactive learning which encompasses the latest developments in professional knowledge and core competencies at work," concludes Ms Yau. With such a distinguished reputation already established, dedicated AATs are guaranteed ascent of the accounting career ladder.