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‘Out of touch’ skills report takes accountants off shortage list


Professional bodies urge government to ignore NSC findings in finalising migrant program.

By Philip King 11 minute read

A report that takes accountants off the skills shortage list is out of sync with reality and must be ignored when prioritising migrant numbers, professional bodies said on Thursday (6 October).

Three categories of accounting jobs are among 17 occupations moved off the shortage list by the National Skills Commission report despite thousands of vacancies for the roles, CA ANZ said.

“We are concerned it does not reflect what we are hearing and seeing on the ground,” said CA ANZ group executive advocacy Simon Grant. “The accounting industry estimates there are 9,000 accounting vacancies in Australia right now.

“This does not reflect the experience from our members, where everyone from the large firms through to small practices and the micro and small business clients they have [are] struggling to recruit and retain people with accounting skills.”

CPA Australia chief executive Andrew Hunter said the findings exposed flaws in the NSC’s methodology.

“The report reflects shortcomings in the NSC’s understanding of the accounting profession ecosystem and its operating rhythm,” Mr Hunter said.

“The report is based on an annual point-in-time dataset. This doesn’t capture seasonal demand for accounting specialists, such as auditors, which typically spikes to critical levels between May and September.

“We’re concerned about the frequency of the commission’s data collection, its reliance on historical information and the application of outdated job titles, which don’t reflect the reality of modern accounting roles.”

The Skills Priority List claims that general accountants, management accountants and taxation accountants are all experiencing “no shortage” and are expected to experience only “moderate” future demand.

Mr Grant said the list acknowledged a shortage of both external and internal auditors, but job titles failed to capture the extent of the problem.

“A key issue here is not just the accounting profession head count — it’s the lack of people with accounting skills that are vital to enabling businesses to embrace productivity, the digital economy and climate change mitigation,” he said.

Mr Hunter agreed that accounting skills were requirements for a whole range of jobs.

“It’s difficult to define the role of an accountant. Often, accounting jobs are advertised with a range of titles, such as business analyst. These titles don’t show up in the commission’s data, notwithstanding they require accounting skills. This affects the accuracy of occupation-specific lists,” Mr Hunter said.

“As professions evolve, so too must the way governments recognise them. We need to see a shift away from a focus on occupations and towards skills-specific analysis and policies. The jobs of the future will be skills-specific not title-specific.”

Mr Grant said it was vital that the report did not deflect the government from tackling the short-term problem with an increase in skilled migration.

“It’s really important that the federal government consider industry numbers and experience, and don’t let this new report reduce or misguide visa pathways for qualified accountants from overseas,” he said.

“We must tap into global markets to fill these current gaps, otherwise there could be major implications for the proper functioning of Australia’s taxation system and the part accountants play facilitating the smooth collection of revenue for the commonwealth.”

Mr Hunter said attempts to recruit overseas had artificially deflated the actual number of accounting vacancies.

“Our members are increasingly turning to methods such as offshoring to fill critical gaps in their operations. This trend is not reflected in job vacancy data as these roles are not advertised locally,” Mr Hunter said.

“We firmly believe demand for accounting professionals is growing and will continue to do so. Without government intervention, we believe Australia will experience a critical shortage of accountants in the next few years. This will impact on the ability of organisations and individuals to access accounting services. Indeed, in some accounting specialties, such as audit, we’re already there.”

Both agreed that the decline in students enrolling for accounting subjects at university meant the problem would only get worse, with Mr Grant describing it as a “ticking timebomb”.

“In about three years’ time the number of qualified graduates coming through is going to taper off at a time we need them most,” he said.

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Philip King

Philip King


Philip King is editor of Accountants Daily and SMSF Adviser, the leading sources of news, insight, and educational content for professionals in the accounting and SMSF sectors.

Philip joined the titles in March 2022 and brings extensive experience from a variety of roles at The Australian national broadsheet daily, most recently as motoring editor. His background also takes in spells on diverse consumer and trade magazines.

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