Why practical training is critical to every graduate’s career

It’s one thing to study accountancy at university, even with practical exercises. It’s quite another to practice as a professional accountant every day in the real world of business. A conscientious graduate will acknowledge the need to transform their education into polished competency before taking on complex accounting duties in earnest. This means getting practical training under the mentorship of senior accountants so one’s lack of experience does not jeopardise the public interest or tarnish the profession.

Experience is not enough

Just finding a position in a company and starting work won’t produce the desired results. Many organisations, especially smaller ones, only implement simple accounting records or part of the full scope of financial responsibilities. However, a SAIPA Accredited Training Centre (ATC) is a real business that follows SAIPA’s learnership guidelines to ensure a graduate gains work experience across a wide range of financial concerns. In this environment, they can work under the watchful eye of experienced accountants who will identify any mistakes they make and guide them in the right direction.

During their learnership period, trainees complete 214 practical modules relating to unique accounting skills in every business area. They record these in SAIPA’s online electronic logbook, a first for the industry, which is moderated by the Institute. In addition, SAIPA assessors visit the ATC to evaluate trainees’ progress.

Once learners complete all the modules, SAIPA issues them and the ATC with a letter of completion and forwards their results to the Finance and Accounting Services Sector Education and Training Authority (FASSET). FASSET then awards them a certificate of competence and their achievement is registered in the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) National Learners’ Records Database.

In this way, graduates can be molded into fully-fledged professional accountants with the correct mindset and complete complement of skills needed in business.

More than training

The ATC is a very different setting from university. Its main goal is not learning but productivity - getting things done efficiently to be profitable. Working in such an environment will equip trainees with know-how that cannot be taught in academia because of this unique dynamic. Apart from essential work experience, trainee accountants will acquire additional capabilities they can leverage throughout their careers.

These include becoming acclimated to the culture of the financial department, learning to work as a member of a team with interrelated responsibilities, and learning to operate systematically as part of a larger process. Other soft skills, like presentation and speaking, emotional intelligence, listening and observing, understanding requirements, reporting, conflict resolution and business writing, will also be gained. And each discreet quality contributes to grooming the ideal professional accountant.

Professional designation

Most accountants sooner or later realise the benefits of holding a professional designation, like SAIPA’s Professional Accountant (SA). It’s trusted by organisations because of the strict conditions placed by the Institute on its members’ competency and conduct, which inevitably protects the profession’s end users from poor service. Such a recognised and well-regarded qualification can open doors to career advancement for employees or business opportunities for private practitioners. However, before one can even apply for the designation, they must complete their three-year learnership at a SAIPA ATC.

Becoming a trainee accountant

Because ATCs are actual businesses with specific workforce needs, SAIPA never tries to influence the recruitment process. A graduate must apply for a position as they would with any other company. This means submitting a professionally drafted CV and presenting oneself confidently at interviews.

SAIPA Student Members do have some advantages over other candidates. Firstly, ATCs may notify SAIPA of vacancies for learners, which we post online in our student membership area. In addition, SAIPA will advertise on our website that a student member is seeking placement. ATC recruiters often check these notices and may contact that member before sourcing candidates elsewhere.

Practicing at a higher level

Becoming a real professional accountant is about more than getting a job. The earnest practitioner strives for excellence in service and aspires to the highest ethical standards from the get-go. So completing a three-year learnership at an ATC sets the pace for everything that follows. It fosters competency and clears the way to a professional designation. After that, the sky’s the limit. Therefore, those currently in university should be sure to plan for their learnership. There’s a list of ATCs on SAIPA’s website as well as instructions on how to become a SAIPA Student Member.

Becoming an ATC

SAIPA is also eager to partner with more organisations that can offer a broad spectrum of accounting experience to recent graduates. This will help the Institute bolster its ranks of proficient accountants who will serve our growing economy’s future needs. It’s a great way to demonstrate one’s commitment to the profession and contribute to its advancement. If you would like to know more about becoming a SAIPA ATC, please contact us through our website.

By Zobuzwe Ngobese, Executive: Marketing & Business Development at the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA)

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