Academia needs better skill sets for future accounting professionals


A recent study published by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, a global professional accounting body, highlights the shortcomings of academia in effectively training future accountants for the skills needed in the marketplace. A concern is that as tuition costs increase, students are paying more for an accounting education that many employers feel may not meet their needs. 

In its May 2022 international study, ACCA published the results of its interviews with over 800 learners and learning development experts to identify qualities and skills that academia needs to recognize and address on behalf of accounting students. The outcome is a list of seven core capabilities, including key competencies, as follows: 

1. Expertise

  • Corporate and business reporting;
  • Taxation and risk management;
  • Advisory and consultancy;
  • Audit and assurance;
  • Performance management; and,
  • Financial management.

2. Ethics

  • Acts in accordance with fundamental principles of professional and personal ethical behavior, ensuring the use of appropriate ethical frameworks and compliance with laws and regulations; and,
  • The sustainable business and finance professional has a critical role to play in bringing new levels of integrity and ethics to the organization. Across the different roles they perform, from audit and advisory to corporate reporting, financial management and risk management, they’re essential to rebuilding market confidence in organizations, creating investor transparency and protecting the public interest, acting ethically at all times.

3. Insight

  • Critical thinking;
  • Planning and project management;
  • Innovation and business acumen; and,
  • Governance and control.

4. Sustainability

  • Applies integrated thinking and action to create, protect and communicate long-term value for the organization, environment and society. Expertise in sustainability will be essential in helping organizations make longer-term decisions that take into consideration the trade-offs, costs and opportunities of all business activities that have ESG impacts, and have consequences across different stakeholders. Sustainability skills will be integral for the sustainable business and finance professional in all the future roles they perform.

5. Collaboration

  • Engagement;
  • Communication;
  • Inclusion;
  • Influence; and,
  • Stakeholder focus.

6. Digital

  • Proficiently and ethically uses existing and emerging data technologies, capabilities, practices and strategies; and,
  • Digital skills will be cornerstone capabilities for the sustainable business and finance professional of the future. Technology will reshape the jobs performed and give new opportunities to add value. Automation and analytics technologies will enhance data mining in auditing, augmenting traditional assurance processes, improving reporting confidence and reducing errors.

7. Drive

  • Lifelong learning;
  • Determination;
  • Change orientation;
  • Authenticity; and,
  • Leadership.

Thus, ACCA has identified objectives for academia to embrace to better prepare future accounting professionals. These needed skills have also been recognized by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, which regulate requirements for accounting programs in the United States. 

To respond to these changing skill set demands, the AICPA and NASBA have implemented the Accounting Evolution, which will revamp accounting offerings with a new CPA Evolution Model Curriculum. The AICPA asserts, “The role of today’s CPA has evolved. Newly licensed CPAs need deeper skill sets, more competencies and greater knowledge of emerging technologies. That’s why the CPA licensure model is changing.” Their objectives in providing better training for accounting students are very much in sync with the ACCA research objectives.

Thus, academia must comply with the new curriculum requirements to better prepare future accounting professionals. For instance, the CPA Evolution Model Curriculum will mandate revamping existing courses and offering new courses that include essential current topics such as cybersecurity, data analytics, information software and systems, sustainability accounting, and ethics training, among others, in order for students to better serve the demands of clients.

Further, beginning in January 2024, a new version of the CPA exam will be implemented to reflect these priorities by offering CPA candidates a choice of business analysis and reporting, information systems and control, or tax compliance and planning in lieu of the Business Environment and Concepts component of the exam. 

CPA firms also expect new hires to have better developed verbal and written communication skills, otherwise known as “soft” skills. Today, accounting professors can no longer dismiss the need to develop soft skills in students because accounting students have traditionally been more mathematically inclined. Instead, written assignments, verbal presentations, research papers and essay exam components must be incorporated into the accounting curriculum to enhance the multiple-choice focus of the past.

Another concern is that accounting faculty members who hold doctoral degrees often lack the practical work experience needed to properly train accounting students for the workplace. Conversely, CPAs in practice who have practical work experience, and would like to teach, often lack the mandated doctoral degree needed to be hired on a full-time tenure track. This “mismatch” reflects an institutional dilemma: Colleges and universities often have limited flexibility in hiring faculty without doctoral or terminal degrees because they are mandated by accrediting organizations, such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, to retain a certain percentage of faculty with doctoral degrees, regardless of practical work experience. In order to validate and distinguish their programs and offerings, colleges and universities are mindful of the importance of maintaining their accreditation by complying with this faculty mandate. 

Thus, academia must adapt to the changing needs within its “market.” Before global businesses and accounting firms provide their own training and education for future hires, academia must effectively implement these needed changes to provide capable future accounting professionals. The Accounting Evolution is the impetus needed to revamp accounting training and education. Perhaps it is also time for accrediting organizations, like the AACSB, to reevaluate their faculty assessment requirements as well. 


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