Financial skills give youth a head start

Around 150 newly-qualified vocational accountants gathered in Gaborone at a prestigious event to celebrate their success as they prepare to enter the job market and begin their careers.

There was joy and a palpable feeling of pride as 150 newly-qualified vocational accountants celebrated their success at the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) annual Achievement Awards held in Gaborone on Friday 9 October 2015.

The group gathered to receive their certificates and party with friends and family. “The Achievement Awards are one of the highlights of the year for AAT in Botswana,” says AAT President Allan Ramsay.
“We celebrate the achievements of these students who have worked so hard, many of them working part-time while balancing family responsibilities and studies to realise their dream of getting this qualification,” says Ramsay.

AAT is the UK’s leading professional institution for vocational accountants and the organisation globally has 130 000 members. It is backed by accounting bodies CIPFA, ICAEW, CIMA and ICAS, as well as the Botswana Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA). The AAT Accounting Qualification is currently offered to over 4 000 students per year in Botswana – its largest cohort of students outside the UK.

AAT offers a range of courses but the most popular is the introductory AAT Diploma in Accounting and Business for young people aged 16-19. No prior qualifications are needed and students are taught financial skills that they can use straight away in the work place.

Financial skills are in high demand in Botswana, where unemployment hovers around the 20% mark. Government has also been diversifying the economy over recent years to try and shift the country’s dependence on its rich diamond reserves – which some say will last only another two decades. This has resulted in other sectors of industry showing strong growth – of them being the financial sector.

Although small when compared to neighbouring South Africa, the banking sector has grown an average of 11.3% between 1995 and 2008. The financial services sector is also seeing a boom in terms of new products and services delivered to customers.

Another sector that is also showing a lot of promise is retail. The recently released 2015 African Retail Development Index revealed that Botswana is ranked second on the continent for retail opportunities. Shopping mall development is growing and retailers have identified plenty of business opportunities. A good supply chain infrastructure and a growing shopping culture also contribute to a fertile ground for retailers in Botswana, where well-known retailers like Shoprite and Woolworths have already gained a foothold.

“Vocational accountants can enter small to medium companies as well as big multinational organisations, helping to balance the books, manage pay rolls and run finance departments,” says Ramsay.

But financial skills are also critical for entrepreneurs who play a vital part in growing the economy. The latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report states youth in Botswana have the second lowest rate of entrepreneurship in Sub-Saharan Africa. It blames the lack of government support, bureaucracy and not creating a climate favourable for entrepreneurship, as well as a lack of financial skills and access to finance among the reasons holding back ambitious, young people.

“With an accounting qualification like the AAT Accounting Qualification, students have a head start – whether they start their own business, look for a job elsewhere or continue with further accounting studies,” he says.

New graduate Lebogang Dilelo says that AAT has opened doors for him, despite the fact that he had no prior experience in accounting.

“After finishing AAT, I managed to secure a job two weeks after my examination with an Insurance company called Phoenix Assurance of Botswana. This was because of the exclusive content that is within the AAT qualification, which other programmes don't offer such as Spreadsheet and Computerized Accounting,” Dilelo says.

Oratile Maruapula who was also among those graduating on Friday adds that because the qualification is internationally recognised, she now feels like she can work anywhere in the world. Marapula is planning to go on to study for her ACCA and plans to open her own audit firm one day.

“Growing up I always had a passion for accounting and wanted to become a chartered accountant and an auditor. The knowledge I have acquired from AAT has made work easier and simpler to perform and it is helping me to produce work of the highest quality,” she says.

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