Students from Asia are returning in droves to Australian universities, making the country one of the most popular destinations for undergraduates from China and India and providing billions of dollars of revenue, but any hopes they may have of building this into a finance career Down Under are looking less rosy, with experts warning of a glut in accounting graduates in the market.
Accounting related job vacancies are at an all-time low since measurement started in 2006, and the Australian government is being urged to reconsider the inclusion of accounting in the skilled occupation list for would-be migrants.
The Australian has reported that in 2012, some 61% of the total enrollments in accounting were from abroad. More recent data from Immigration Department shows that just over 74,000 foreigners applied to study in Australia during the three months to September 2013 – a 7% increase year-on-year, and the highest number of quarterly applications in four years. Chinese students fuelled the increase, with a 20% rise in the number applying to study, reports news.com.au
Australia now has almost 350,000 international students, with a quarter coming from China and 10% from India. But the labour authorities are concerned about the number of graduates compared to the jobs available, with data showing on average 34 qualified accountants for every vacancy.
Part of the problem, according to the submission to the 2014 review of the skilled occupation list, which comes into effect mid-year, is that employers find many graduates unsuitable due to their poor language skills, says The Australian.
Nick Murphy, regional director of Hays, says there is probably an over-supply as many people want to move but there haven’t been many vacancies. “It comes down to different areas – some are busier than others. Anything in regulation or risk-related, there is still a shortage of candidates. And there is demand for accountants who have good experience in driving cost efficiencies.”
But suitability is an issue in the local market. Dominic Bareham, manager in financial services accounting, risk, audit & compliance at Morgan McKinley in Sydney points out that there is a difference between a qualified accountant and being qualified for a specific accounting role.
“There are a range of factors that determine someones suitability for an accounting position including; experience, cultural fit, technical abilities and so on,” he says. “So whilst there might be a high number of accounting graduates and a low vacancy level this doesn’t necessarily give you an indication of how many suitable candidates are available for current vacancies. Often people coming from overseas sought-after skills such as experience in larger financial services markets such as London.”
Murphy’s suggestion to undergraduate accounting students looking to work in Australia is to try get as much work experience before graduating as they can. The other option, says Bareham, is to look to Asia.
“Australian-qualified accountants are well regarded in overseas market including Asia, UK and the US. This gives these individuals exposure to large international companies, which can often fast track their career. This international exposure will also benefit them if they wish to return to Australia by giving them the edge on their local counterparts.”
Both recruiters mentioned ‘business partnering’ as critical skills sets for accountants to develop to make themselves more employable. Murphy says accountants who can help the business manage costs and improve the overall results is a valuable offering, as is expertise in technology and IT.
Bareham says that while business partnering skills have been in demand in accounting and finance for a few years now, he expects the demand to continue to rise.
“This goes beyond the normal technical skill set of an accountant. Companies are looking for accountants who can see the big picture, and are experts in their industry with a strong understanding of products, distribution methods and customers. You need the social skills to manage demanding internal clients often balancing business unit demands within corporate guidelines.”