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Accountancy Facing Staff Exodus Overseas

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The Age -
Published: October 12, 2007 - 2:19PM

The accountancy industry, already struggling to balance its employment books, is facing an exodus of young accountants with thousands planning to travel overseas in the next two years.

Research conducted earlier this year showed there were four job vacancies for every one accountant, prompting some accountancy firms to take drastic action to fill the void.

In an effort to boost their ranks, some firms had taken to offering high school students free university degrees, and cash incentives of as much as $10,000 to first-year uni students who take up full-time positions.

And now a new survey, by the Institute of Chartered Accountants, shows 43 per cent of young accountants are intending to travel overseas in the next two years, repeating the results of a similar survey conducted in 2006.

The independent national survey polled 680 accountants predominantly aged between 21 and 30.

All the respondents were taken from the 12,400 people studying the Chartered Accountants Program, the post-graduate diploma course accountants take to become chartered accountants.

Sheena Frenkel, general manager of the chartered accountants program at the Institute of Chartered Accountants, said that of 46,000 chartered accountants trained in Australia, 14 per cent were living overseas, spanning 87 countries from Canada to Kazakhstan.

The United Kingdom remains the destination of choice for young Australian accountants looking to gain experience overseas, but there was also huge demand for their services in Asia.

"It is well documented that China is presently looking for 100,000 chartered accountants and with the Olympics next year, Asia has overtaken America in its appeal to young accountants," Ms Frenkel said.

"However, the lure of Europe and the international experience the UK can provide continues to be the strongest influencer when young accountants are considering an overseas stint," she said.

Of those surveyed, 66 per cent said they planned to travel to the UK, proving it to be the most popular destination, while Asia was found to be the second most popular destination with the US third.

NSW general manager for the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Lisette Cochineas, said meeting the shortage of accountants in Australia was an issue.

"It is a great challenge for us. The number of domestic accountancy students in university has remained flat since 1997," she said.

"So it is a struggle for us ... but we are doing a lot of work in careers marketing to ensure we do attract accountants into the chartered accountants program.

"We do a number of cadetship programs for first-year, second-year and third-year students and those programs are very successful ... and we've certainly made a great effort to attract more university graduates to accounting."

She said the association also had established new methods of boosting the ranks of accountants, including offering a post-graduate course to students trained in other fields.

"It allows, say, an engineer or scientist to transfer their skills, to upgrade their skills, and become ready for the chartered accountancy program."

Ms Cochineas said the desire to build on their professional experience, the lure of higher wages and the attraction of travel had contributed to the high proportion of young accountants planning overseas stints.

"But also with the advent of IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards), there is so much more flexibility for accountants to travel and work in different countries.

"It has enabled accountants to more easily transfer skills from one country to another.

"We also have very high education standards, which are similar to those in countries such as the UK and the US ... which means there is a great level of demand for accountants trained here."

But Ms Cochineas said that, while it's a challenge for the industry to have people travel overseas, it also added to the quality of accountant stocks when they returned to Australia.

And it's not all one way traffic.

"We do attract a lot of people from the UK and Asia to work in Australia," she said. 

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