Trainee accountants and IT expectation gap: greater collaboration needed
Many employers face the challenge of trainee accountants lacking required IT skills when entering the workplace. According to Olive Stumke, a lecturer in the School of Accounting Sciences on the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University (NWU Vaal), acknowledging and understanding this challenge puts academics in an ideal position to narrow the gap and finding a sustainable solution.
In a recent interview with Accountancy SA, Stumke admits that although most Generation Y’s are IT literate the pervasiveness of IT in the workplace and the ongoing drive by employers to use technology to do the job more efficiently, is giving way to an “expectation gap” on the part of the employer – especially with regards to the actual IT competencies of trainee accountants. “Even though professional bodies such as SAICA provides an outline of IT competencies that are required to be addressed in the academic programme, this does not necessarily mean that students who enter their training contract will be adequately equipped with the required IT skills,” explains Stumke.
By making use of questionnaires completed by training officers and trainee accountants, Stumke identified several expectations and shortcomings as it relates to the IT proficiency of trainee accountants. Some of these findings included:
- Employers are aware of SAICA’s IT requirements and guidelines.
Given this, it is reasonable to expect that they know what to expect of new trainee accountants regarding IT competencies. However, universities design their programmes to meet a variety of other, sometimes competing, needs and as such employers’ expectations in this regard may therefore be unrealistic. Employers ranked the following top three basic IT competencies as important: word processing software, basic spreadsheet software and internet tools.
- Perceived versus actual levels of IT competencies.
Stumke explains that it is clear that there is a gap between employers’ IT expectations and the actual IT competencies of trainee accountants. Employers perceive trainee accountants as experts on social media, but as beginners in the basic areas of IT literacy, as required by them to perform their day-to-day duties. “I believe that it appears that while trainee accountants have a basic knowledge of IT and IT competencies prescribed by SAICA, the question is whether these competencies link to or satisfy the need of employers,” says Stumke.
- Method of instruction
IT forms an integral part of every aspect of a trainee accountant’s daily word. This leads to the question: “How should IT be taught at university level to ensure that trainees are able to integrate IT effectively into their working environment?” Stumke’s research indicated that 83.1% of employers felt that IT should not be taught as separate subject but rather be integrated into each subject.
Recommendations and employer concerns
“The reality regarding the current level of IT exposure in the SAICA-accredited programmes is that universities are given the freedom to interpret how IT –and, if applicable, separate IT courses – are designed and built into the programme to suit their own needs,” says Stumke. This leads to different interpretations and, according to Stumke, ultimately to trainees with different IT competencies.
It is Stumke’s view that closer collaboration between universities, employers and SAICA should be considered. “With fewer differences in interpretation regarding the prescribed competencies, employers will know exactly what could be expected from trainee accountants when they enter the workplace.”