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Soft Skills in the Accounting Profession - Sunil Ramlall

Updated on June 19, 2015

What is the relevance of soft-skills in the accounting profession? Can accounting professionals actually succeed without the necessary soft skills? The Accounting Profession, which has commercialized its’ services extensively in the past two to three decades, is facing the challenges of change. An early and concerted response to the changes in the scope of work was the emphasis on developing generic skills in accounting higher education [1]. A recent study by Stivers and Onifade [2] confirmed that business professionals perceive the value of nontechnical skills higher than the students' perception. Employers are increasingly demanding a greater range of softer skills such as effective communication, the paper is intended to identify current accounting students’ perspectives on soft skills, identify their self-assessed competence in the respective soft skills, and suggest ways in which accounting students can gain soft skills. Given the expectations of employers, we used this research to identify the current perspectives of employers, students and accounting professionals to determine their views, expertise, and expectation on the role of soft skills in the accounting profession. We assessed students’ level of perception/knowledge of soft skills, its’ importance and their self-assessment of their level of possession of these skills.

Historically, technology has had a profound impact on skills that employers want from business graduates [3,4]. The shift from an industrial economy to an information society and an office economy means that many jobs now place an emphasis on integrity, communication, and flexibility [5]. As noted by Robles [6], soft skills are as important as cognitive skills (John, 2009; Zehr, 1998). Enabling students to develop their soft skills could make the difference in their being hired for a job in their field [7] and the lack of soft skills can sink the promising career of someone who has technical ability and professional expertise but no interpersonal qualities [8]. Actually, since the mid-1980s, the members of the accounting profession have called for academics to emphasize the importance of nontechnical skills in the education of accountants [9].

Preparing accounting for long term career success is pivotal and is the responsibility of all stakeholders. In line with this research, “students typically receive an introduction to competencies such as analytical thinking and problem solving as part of their basic undergraduate education. They may then–via additional education or experience early in their careers–learn how to integrate those foundational competencies with other accounting and broad management competencies”, [10]. These thought leaders, through the task-force established are calling for changes in accounting education and concluded that they support a broadening of the scope of the curriculum in two major respects. First, there is a need to attend to long-term career demands. Second, there is a need to prepare accounting graduates for careers across a wide spectrum of organizational settings. Drobocky [11]recently reminded us that soft skills that employers want are still lacking in new college graduates. Actually, soft skills are not only lacking in new graduates but senior accountingexecutives as well [12].

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