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Are Accounting Graduates Competent in Real Job Environment?
On a global perspective, employability of graduates in all spheres needs to be offered a prominent significance in higher education policies. Majority of educational curricula and system have focused too much on theoretical aspects of learning and teaching processes. However, the learning and teaching processes need to cover a more comprehensive area including instilling skills and competencies necessary for economic development, creating a kind of personality which is ideal for the specific profession and more significantly in enhancing the graduate’s employability (Yorke, 2006). In accounting for instance, education programs for the subject need to be tailored in such a way that they contribute to enhancing the student’s capabilities in the actual work environment through providing not only the competency required but also a skilled employees who meets the needs of employers (DeLange, Gut & Jackling, 2006).
In order for graduates to be fully employable, they need to have both technical and generic skills (Moon, Harvey, Bower and Geall, 1997). Moon et al noted that in United Kingdom, employers considered generic skills more important compared with the disciplinary based skills and understanding. Moreover, there is a rising interest among academia and employers on the need to offer accounting students with the necessary skills in the practical job environment, alongside the soft technical skills and other non accounting skills. These skills include but not limited to time management, teamwork, communication, leadership, analysis, and the necessary personality traits. Previous research establishes that accounting education has a significant role in the disconnect between graduate’s skills and the needs of the labor market (Kim, Ghosh, and Meng, 1993).
Further, a number of researchers and institutions have established a need to change accounting curricula (Zahran & Atia, 2008). Accordingly, this change will give the graduates the capability of competing in the job market and also to be promoted.
There is therefore, a need take efforts in researching and conducting analysis in investigating the suitability of accounting graduates in meeting the needs of the labor market and hence, establish a gap between the skills students acquired from their courses and what employers actually need. Through this analysis, relevant connections can then be established between the employment requirement and the educational output in accounting and therefore enhancing graduate employability.
This study is aimed to answer the following research question
Do the skills and competencies gained from the accounting schools align with those needed in the actual job market?
The secondary research question is as follows
Are employers satisfied with the graduate’s technical skills at the expense of generic skills?
Literature reveals a significant gap between the skills employers need and those actually acquired by graduates from schools. Accounting education focuses more on technical skills than other skills and which are equally important (DeLange, & Jackling, 2008, Braun, 2004, Unerman & Agyemang, 1998). There is therefore a need take efforts in researching and conducting analysis in investigating the suitability of accounting graduates in meeting the needs of the labor market and hence, establish a gap between the skills students acquired from their courses and what employers actually need. Through this analysis, relevant connections can then be established between the employment requirement and the educational output in accounting and therefore enhancing graduate employability.
According to Mustafa and Ismail (2003), there are a number of studies conducted on the relevancy of accounting curriculum in Europe and other developed nations. A review of these studies by the authors indicate that majority of accounting graduates do not have the requisite skills in the employment context. These skills include professional, communication, oral and technological. The authors also noted that the phenomena was extant both in developed and developing nations. For instance, an analysis of Malaysia by the authors established that graduates from local colleges and universities were countering unemployment problems because they did not have the necessary skills such as communication, teamwork, leadership among others. Moreover, the author establishes that though the economy of countries such as Malaysia are performing favorably when compared with other countries in the region, the rate of unemployment is high because of these aspects.
The need to transform the account curricular has been stirred by technological advancement and the novel international business strategies. Some two decades ago, accounting graduates could claim that the success of their careers was mostly related to the technical skills one had as an accountant (Rebele, 1985). However, as time went by, a number of studies have noted that generic skills were equally important in determining the success of employees including those in the accounting profession. In fact, a number of authors have come up with an argument that technical skills are presumed and instead, it is the generic skills which effectively determine an individual’s success in his/her career (Mohamed, & Lashine, 2003 LaFrancois, 1992), These authors also established that majority of employers were lamenting on the failure of education in delivering quality skills that nurtures an all round graduate who meets the employment needs. A closer analysis of studies also found that many graduates do not harbor the necessary generic skills in their work context. The skill set includes teamwork, oral communication, and leadership.
Hancock et al. (2009) observes that majority of employers are looking for graduates who harbor different non-technical skills including self management, verbal and written communication, technological competency, problem solving, organizational skills, and planning. Consequently, the author establishes that majority of employers are now increasing utilizing these skills in discriminating graduates during the evaluation process. In the workplace, ability to deal with complex situations, commitment, conscientiousness and working under pressure are among the skills that are highly valued by employers.
On his part, Barrie et al (2009) observed that very few universities on a global scale have adequately provided convincing evidence in implementing a curricular that systematically and comprehensively helps students to develop the abilities of conforming in the work settings. The authors, there are eight interactive features which influence the efforts of institutions in fostering a renewal of the curriculum in effectively achieving graduate attributes. These interacting elements included conceptions, assessments, curriculum, implementation, student centeredness, staff development and quality assurance.
As a way of addressing the eight elements explained by Barrie et al, A Australian University has introduced and implemented what it terms as a WIL Accounting Framework. According to this university, the WIL framework if implemented and executed effectively will help students in building key skills related to their careers. The institution established that in order for accounting students to success in the work setting, they need to be equipped with both technical skills as well as generic skills such as problem solving, teamwork, communication, leadership among others which can be applied in different work settings. The WIL framework different skill attributes and set that employers expect from university graduates as they complete their accounting and related courses. Further, the implementation of this program entails a progressive approach where the required skills are embedded in particular courses. This approach has been found to narrow the expected gap between academia and industry while enhancing the employability of graduates, also making them adaptable and with the necessary capabilities in the workplace (Kavangh and Leong, 2013).
A study was conducted by Jackling and Lange (2015) to establish a performance gap of accounting graduates. This study also sought to establish the key attributes which graduates had perceived to be developed in the course of their academic studies and which could lead them to obtain gainful employment. In addition, the researchers also wanted to know the perception of employers in regard to graduate skills that were most important to them in their professional success. The researchers employed a survey as a research design in answering the research questions. Participants included fourth year students undertaking internship practices in the final year of their accounting studies. There were also employers who were requested to participant in the survey. Fresh graduates were also invited to complete the survey. According to these researchers, these participants were selected based on their employment experience in an accounting organization.
Graduates were required to state their perception on the type of skills need in their accounting career progression, attributes, interpersonal, personal and skills attributes. Attributes and skills consist of common generic skills which includes technical, interpersonal, and communication skills. On the other hand, interpersonal and personal attributes refers to emotional intelligence. The authors also required graduates to state their perception regarding their accounting curriculum in terms of what they had gained from it and how the knowledge fits in work experiences.
According to the findings of the study, there are differences between the perception of graduates in terms of what is taught in their accounting courses and the skills necessary for their career growth when compared with the actual skills required in the labor market and skills sought by employers in employees. Further, the study established a need for a greater focus on generic skills and emotional intelligence as necessary aspects in preparing students in accounting market. The study also went on to reveal that undergraduate accounting programs have not adequately provided education that is broad based alongside a specialized professional education that best meets employers need from accounting graduates.
A study by De Lange and Jackling (2009) assessed the emphasis placed on generic and technical skills developed for accounting courses both from the employer and graduate’s point of view. The motivation for this research was due to two issues: the first one being calls by the international education committee and accounting profession in regard to professional inadequacy of accounting graduates. The second aspect that triggered this research was the challenges which professional institutions and educators were facing in working towards ensuring that accounting students were being equipped with the requisite skills in adding value to businesses. The participants in this research included 174 students from one Australian University who provided data and information to the researchers. The data generated was compared to the employers perceived needs who were also sampled purposively for the study. Findings indicate that while both students and employers acknowledged the significance of technical skills as a critical aspect for accounting graduates, majority of employers were as well more in interested in recruiting graduates who harbored generic skills alongside the necessary technical skills. Interesting, majority of students indicated that they were not taught generic skills in schools; instead, tutors were concentrating on instilling technical skills on the learners. In other words, generic or soft skills were given less value if not overlooked in the educational curricular. From the employer’s perspective, skill divergences among graduates were found to be greatest in aspects of interpersonal and personal skills, leadership, team skills, and oral communication.
Kavanagh and Leong (2013) observes that most institutions of higher learning are experiencing increased pressure to produce graduates who fits the actual work environment and who have the capability of copying with the dynamic work environment. Consequently, this has made a number of universities to provide opportunities to undergraduate students in gaining actual world experiences and business acumen by being involved in integrated work- learning (WIL) during the learning process. The authors came up with a three stage framework that can facilitate embedment of WIL into an undergraduate accounting program. This framework is aimed at encouraging students in building critical discipline knowledge alongside generic skills such as problem and conflict solving, leadership, communication and teamwork. According to Kavanagh and Leong (2013), the developed WILL framework narrows the gap expectations between stakeholders in the industry, students and academic. Further, this framework supports the development of graduates who have the capability of responding to the changing work environment and enhancing their employability and adaptability to the work environment.
As part of the efforts in improving the quality of graduates, educational institutions have been pressured to institute educational curricular that embeds relevant skills and knowledge to facilitate personal development self fulfillment for the students. This is aimed at equipping graduates with independent thought and essential analytical skills in supporting a professional and productive labor force. This will subsequently aid in preparing graduating to be future leaders in a dynamic, diverse and global environment (Bradley, et al, 2008).
Jacobson and Elliott (2002) point out that an accountant requires more education which complements their bodies of knowledge. This education includes organizational behavior, analytical skills, measurement, and strategic management. Further, the authors also advocate for an interdisciplinary curriculum at the college and university level.
This review establishes that majority of accounting graduates do not acquire the necessary skills required in the actual job market. In other words, the accounting educational curricular is lacking core elements, particularly in regard to non-technical aspects of the job requirement such as communication, teamwork, conflict resolution, leadership among others. Further, there is a clear gap in literature in regard to ascertaining how soft skills education can be embedded in accounting curricular.
In the meantime, there is great need in reforming the curricular so as to facilitate achievement of graduate outcomes in terms of increasing their employability. This can be done through embedding a course on soft skills as well as introducing work-integrated learning in accounting curriculum so as to narrow the gap between graduate skills and the skills needed by employers. The soft skills course and work-integrated learning will subsequently help in enhancing the skills and attributes needed in the actual work settings. Further, embedment of professional attributes and skills through the specific courses in accounting, graduates could develop necessary skills in meeting professional requirements and accreditation to adequately prepare them in the job market. Further, there is a need to incorporate an interdisciplinary curriculum at the college and university level that focuses on such educational aspects as analytical skills, organizational behavior, conflict management, strategic management and measurement.