The Department of Home Affairs recently ended public commentary on the draft national Critical Skills List, which includes several common accountancy roles.
“Due to a shortage of accountants, organisations are forced to source and recruit foreign nationals to fill the gap,” says Faith Ngwenya, Technical and Standards Executive at the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA).
Professional bodies play a key role in ensuring only foreign accountants who demonstrate professional competence and ethical integrity are permitted to practice locally under a Critical Skills Work Visa.
Critical accountancy skills
Accountancy roles included in the draft Critical Skills List are general accountant, management accountant, tax professional, accountant in practice, financial accountant, forensic accountant, accounting officer, external auditor, and internal auditor.
Marisa Jacobs, Managing Director at Xpatweb agrees with the nominated roles. The company runs an annual Critical Skills Survey and was the only private sector organisation invited to present its findings to the various Departments compiling the draft Critical Skills List. “8 percent of our respondents report difficulty in recruiting skills in the accountancy and finance fields,” she says.
Asked why there are not enough local accountants, Jacobs says the problem is relative: “There are definitely many qualified accountants in the country but demand outpaces supply.”
If this is true, why do many accountancy graduates struggle to find work? “Companies are unable to risk the integrity of their accountancy function on inexperienced candidates,” says Jacobs.
The role of professional bodies
For foreign professionals to apply for a Critical Skills Visa, the Immigration Act requires that they meet certain requirements.
First, they must obtain a confirmation, in writing, from a professional body, council, or board recognised by SAQA, or any relevant government Department confirming the skills or qualifications of the applicant and appropriate post qualification experience.
Second, if required by law, they need proof of application for a certificate of registration with a professional body, council or board recognised by SAQA in terms of the National Qualifications Framework Act.
Third, they must possess proof of evaluation of their foreign qualification by SAQA, which must be translated by a sworn translator into one of the official languages of the Republic.
Ngwenya says that SAIPA strives to ensure these accountants can move as quickly as possible into their new posts for the sake of economic growth. However, she insists that its standards for professional excellence and ethical conduct must be maintained throughout.
The Institute also has agreements with several international professional accountancy bodies to facilitate their members being able to work in South Africa under SAIPA’s oversight.
However, foreign national accountants should never be recruited for the sole purpose of ‘catching up on work’. “There must be well-defined programmes to transfer skills and experience to South African professionals in a way that can be measured and verified,” says Ngwenya.
Organisations also need to establish a strong succession process to identify suitable candidates who will assume key roles when the foreign accountants vacate their positions to return home.
Accountancy career path
The fact that accountancy roles appear on the draft Critical Skills List confirms the profession’s importance in economic development. It also promises enduring demand in the job market and stable income for those who pursue it as their occupation.
“We encourage anyone who enjoys working with numbers to consider a career in accountancy as they will never regret their decision,” says Ngwenya.
High school students and those wishing to study towards a business degree can visit SAIPA’s website to gain a better understanding of the Institute’s career development path and the membership opportunities open to them.
Lastly, corporate accountancy departments and private accountancy practices that have enjoyed all the profession has to offer should take on trainees. “This will help our South African graduates gain vital practical experience to practice responsibly and ensure business has enough competent accountants in the future,” says Ngwenya.