Hiring young professionals

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While the demand for accountants has never been stronger and career opportunities more diverse, when it comes to attracting the next generation of accounting professionals, from an image and career perception, Hong Kong’s accounting sector is facing a number of challenges.

Brought together by ACCA Hong Kong, representatives of various professional bodies and the Hon Edmund Wong FCCA, Legislative Council Member of the Accountancy Functional Constituency, participated in an ‘Attractiveness of the Accounting Profession’ roundtable discussion, which focused on trends as well as the role educational institutions, accounting bodies, policymakers, employers and other influencers can play in bolstering the appeal of the accounting profession to the younger generation.

Change the perception

As the accounting industry looks for fresh ways to recruit the next generation, roundtable participants agreed that there is a perception of accounting professionals as dispassionate bookkeepers who only work with debit and credit spreadsheets. To mitigate negative perceptions, Joseph Owolabi FCCA, ACCA’s then president, suggested sharpening the narrative around the profession as a force for good by highlighting the relationship with purpose and social impact. ‘Younger generations want more than just a job; they want to contribute to making a better world,’ Owolabi noted. ‘Our job is to get them excited about what accountants do, so they can see how that is useful to the world.’

As the younger generation tend to evaluate career choices at an early stage in their studies, there was agreement that earlier and more effective engagement with secondary and university students is necessary. ‘We need to engage with the educational institutes and students as early as possible,’ noted Clement Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Registered Public Interest Entity Auditors.

As a policy maker, Wong described how he is working with the government and the education bureau to roll out programmes aimed at encouraging more secondary school students to choose accounting as their primary study programme.

The type of engagement used to communicate with students is also important. ‘We need to find ways to use technology to engage the younger generation more effectively and help them to visualise the long-term benefits of becoming an accounting professional,’ advised Alice Yip FCCA, a past chairman of ACCA Hong Kong.

Spice it up

Roundtable participants also highlighted the need to ‘spice up’ the style of engagement with students. For example, instead of senior partners talking to students about the technical aspects of the profession, younger accountant ambassadors could share their experiences, including the fun side of accounting. Meanwhile, with teachers, lectures and professors often acting as de facto career advisers, Roy Leung FCCA, vice president of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants, pointed out that it is important for academics to be kept up to date with the latest developments in the accounting sector. ‘We need to ensure that teachers and professors understand the future career prospects so they can be part of our marketing team,’ he said.

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As employers try to figure out ways to appeal to a younger demographic, Parco Wu FCCA, president of the Society of Chinese Accountants and Auditors, suggested allowing young accountants  to run an online business as a side gig. ‘This could be a way of satisfying their curiosity and also give them the opportunity to learn new things,’ Wu noted.

With a tendency for younger workers look for purpose-driven careers, Lie Ming Or, chairman, Hong Kong Regional Council, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, suggested that employers should make an effort to project a more positive culture. ‘Rebranding the profession to go beyond traditional accounting will attract more young talents who position themselves as “difference makers”,’ she said.

According to Margaret Mak FCCA, president of the Association of Woman Accountants of Hong Kong, creating the right culture and workplace to empower the younger generation is essential, but knowing how to attract young professionals by offering higher value work is also key. ‘To make job training sound more interesting, we have repacked it as accounting for YouTubers, accounting for e-commerce and accounting for virtual money,’ she said.

However, to attract the next generation of accountants, professional bodies need to play a more proactive role explaining the career options available and the benefit of the transference of skills between different disciplines. ‘The one thing we must sell is if you become a doctor or a lawyer you can’t change, but if you become an accountant, after three years you can do so many different things in the world,’ said Stephen Law, president of the Hong Kong Business Accountants Association.

Cross-industry training

To broaden skillsets, ACCA Hong Kong chairman Danny Po FCCA suggested accounting bodies could collaborate with other organisations to provide cross-industry training with certificates awarded for the completion of cybersecurity and environmental, social and governance programmes. ‘This would let the whole accounting industry know that this is the right way to go,’ he said.

While a career in accounting is often portrayed as more stressful and less fulfilling than becoming a social media influencer, Chan pointed out that the career lifespan of the latter is unknown territory, whereas the known advantages of the former include job security and the opportunity to work in different industries. However, to become a successful accountant requires commitment and dedication.

‘No doubt, the world is changing and the accounting profession is no exception, but learning the basic accounting skill sets is still necessary,’ Chan emphasised. ‘Without the basic skill sets, how can accountants gain the confidence and trust of clients?’

More information

Read the report on the Hong Kong roundtable discussion

Read our articles on talent trends: Professionals under pressureThe Gen Z-friendly firmGen Z’s expectations at work, and Break down generational barriers

This article was first published in AB magazine January 2024

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