Accounting graduates face job market squeeze. And the notion of an accounting degree as a safe bet is under threat.

Accounting graduates face job market squeeze



‘The supply of accounting education providers has increased – the market will become saturated and it will become difficult to get jobs,’ says Professor Raymond da Silva Rosa Photo: Bohdan Warchomij


The trend towards offshoring low-level finance jobs and the fragmentation of financial services are affecting the job outcomes of accounting graduates. Confidential data being circulated among academics shows 25 per cent to 40 per cent of accounting graduates from the nation’s top universities haven’t secured work in the sector within a year of graduating. The market for accounting roles is becoming saturated. And the notion of an accounting degree as a safe bet is under threat.University of Western Australia accounting professor Raymond da Silva Rosa said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if what ­happened in law in the United States is happening in accounting here.”

The confidential data contradicts Australian Graduate Survey figures, which show 80 per cent of accounting graduates found full-time work within four months of completing studies.

Professor da Silva Rosa said the mining boom had insulated UWA against the trend, but new educational institutions, including private colleges, have dramatically increased the output of accounting students.

Sector newcomers cherry-pick the most popular and cheapest courses to run, and accounting is one of them.

“The supply of accounting education providers has increased – the market will become saturated and it will become difficult to get jobs,” Professor da Silva Rosa said.


The low-growth environment is masking a broader trend related to offshoring and fragmentation of the financial sector.

Big chartered firms have always pulled back sharply on graduate intakes when trading conditions are tough. The current climate is no different.

The big four accounting firms will struggle to achieve positive growth in 2012-13 and have generously pruned graduate recruitment.

Macquarie University’s Nonna Martinov-Bennie said that the big four and larger mid-tier firms “have been trying to convert as many summer vacationers to graduates as possible”.

“Graduate vacancies are reduced, affecting those final year students who did not secure a placement,” Professor Martinov-Bennie said.

But other factors are at play in the industry. ­Association of Chartered Certified Accountants chief executive John Winter said the downturn in white-collar employment is only partly responsible for the market not absorbing the volume of accounting graduates.

“It is also driven by the transition of entry-level and processing-based roles offshore,” he said.


This year, PwC cut its intake of tax graduates and accelerated training for recruits under a new model designed to compensate for sending a higher proportion of low-level compliance work offshore.

Mr Winter said in this context, universities and professional bodies have a significant role to play in talking more to industry about the broader relevance of accounting qualifications.

“We need to diversify [away from] the notion that someone with an accounting degree must start in an accounting targeted role,” Mr Winter said.

Industry and graduates have long complained that bachelor degrees leave people ill equipped for the “real world”.

University of Queensland head of accounting, associate professor Julie Walker says it’s been evident for some time that employers expect an ­“ever-demanding set of skills and knowledge” that goes “well beyond what you’d traditionally expect of an accounting degree”.

She said this is one reason dual degrees have become so popular.

At the same time, she said, the finance sector is fragmenting into ever narrower areas of specialisation – financial planning, tax law, book-keeping, economics – which is adding to the number of graduates in the pipeline feeding into chartered firms.

But University of NSW head of school of accounting Peter Roebuck says this cuts both ways.

“Big firms do things – make big structural shifts – without consultation [with educators], then come back and blame the universities for not producing work-ready graduates,” he said.

“They’re not accepting any responsibility.”

He was particularly concerned about the lack of job prospects for international students, who are the majority of postgraduate enrolments.

Mr Roebuck says the offshoring trend does concern him, not because Australian workers can’t move up the value chain, but international reporting standards have increased the burden on domestic organisations enormously, not to mention new fields such as carbon valuation and trading.

His concern is that it takes away the opportunity to learn the grassroots of a business. “How do young accountants cut their teeth? I can’t answer that – that worries me,” he said.

Mr Winter says there is an opportunity for graduates to pick up entry level experience in Asia.

“But that’s not currently seen as an interesting option,” he said.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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