Sage’s Practice of Now report, which surveyed 3,000 accountants, has found that just 13 per cent of accountants believed that accounting training was adequate for the next 10 years.
“Accountant training has traditionally been all about understanding the legislation,” said Chris Downing, a former senior accountant who is now a global director of accountants at Sage.
“The whole training approach needs to evolve in a holistic way — understanding how to work with people, how to get the best out of people.”
Conversely, 44 per cent of Australian accountants believed analytical thinking was the most important trait to look for when hiring graduates, up from 35 per cent five years ago.
The next most important trait was emotional intelligence at 20 per cent.
Dominic Myssy, principal at Sydney-based practice Myssy + Co, believes that, while both these skills are highly regarded by today’s accountants, emotional intelligence is the most valuable.
“I believe analytical thinking is part of an accountant’s DNA and honed during their training. However, it’s emotional intelligence which is the most important factor when assessing a candidate,” Mr Myssy said.
“The ability to communicate complex ideas in a way that demonstrates empathy will always win out for me over technical ability. Technical skills can be taught, but emotional intelligence is much more difficult to foster and nurture in staff.”
Prime Partners director George Morice previously told Accountants Daily that soft skills training should be mandated in accounting courses, given the role accountants play in client interactions.
“I think there are a lot of doers out there who can get in and process work, and what the accounting industry is lacking at the moment is people who have the knowledge but also have the ability to deal with clients and empathise with clients, and I think the social side is where the real problem is,” Mr Morice said.
“We’re dealing with really stressful parts of people’s lives, and having someone with empathy and the ability to connect with the person and make them feel comfortable is worth its weight in gold.”
To reinforce the current disillusion with the state of accounting education, more than four out of five accountants agreed that they were considering recruiting from a non-traditional background.
Furthermore, 43 per cent of respondents said that new accountants joining the profession should have industry experience outside of accounting.
“Accountants are starting to understand that a successful firm is actually a relationship management business,” said Michael Office, Global VP of Accountants at Sage.
“Engaging with clients, managing the relationship, making sure that accountants contribute towards their clients’ success — this requires firms to have different skill sets within their practice.”
The accounting education landscape has attracted a lot of attention over the last few years, with universities conceding that a typical three-year undergraduate program is insufficient in ensuring graduates are job-ready.