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Are Soft Skills Required for Accounting Students in Future Careers?


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Nowadays, business is very challenging and competitive, so it requires employers to hire multitasking employees. Therefore, students should be learning soft skills linked with industrial requirements. Accounting students should have added value, such as good soft skills, which may lead to higher employability. Higher education institutions need to play a role to provide a curriculum that emphasizes soft skills such as communication skills, time management, and problem solving. This study discusses these skills for accounting graduates during their studies at higher education institutions. Without better soft skills, it is very tough for future accountants to be hired. Higher employability linked with better soft skills may enhance the public’s perception of the accounting field.
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Are Soft Skills Required for Accounting Students in Future Careers?
Syaiful Baharee Jaafar
Politeknik Tuanku Sultanah Bahiyah
Nowadays, business is very challenging and competitive, so it requires employers to hire
multitasking employees. Therefore, students should be learning soft skills linked with
industrial requirements. Accounting students should have added value, such as good soft
skills, which may lead to higher employability. Higher education institutions need to play a
role to provide a curriculum that emphasizes soft skills such as communication skills, time
management, and problem solving. This study discusses these skills for accounting graduates
during their studies at higher education institutions. Without better soft skills, it is very tough
for future accountants to be hired. Higher employability linked with better soft skills may
enhance the public’s perception of the accounting field.
Keywords: soft skills, higher education institutions, curriculum
1.0 Introduction
Nowadays, an accounting career has become more challenging due to globalization. Even if a
student is able to graduate with good results, that is not a guarantee of success in his or her
career. Accounting is a technical subject, ensuring that students have the ability to understand
the transactions and procedures of accounting matters only. Globalization issues require
accounting students to have more soft skills rather than technical knowledge.
Even though company accountants are knowledgeable and experienced regarding accounting
matters, the misuse of accounting treatment still happens. This shows that the accountant
should be provided with soft skills knowledge along with accounting knowledge. Soft skills
need to be taught along with accounting subjects in secondary school, college, or university.
Accounting students should be provided with knowledge of leadership, teamwork,
communication, and time management. It is not easy for an accountant to deal with people,
especially those who have authority and tend to misuse financial reports for personal matters.
Through learning the soft skill elements in the curriculum, students have the ability to face
those problems. In addition, Mara et al. (2007) stated that accountants are expected to learn
both hard and soft skills to enable them to better multitask when facing challenges in today’s
modern business environments.
Lack of communication skills tends to result in misunderstanding of information with clients
or employers, which bears costs. Argument and discussion are required in the accounting
field because it involves documents. Without good communication skills, companies could
have problems with clients. This study further discusses why more soft skills should be
required for accounting students for their future careers. Three aspects of soft skills will be
further discussed: communication, time management, and problem solving.
2.0 Literature Review
Accounting students need to have good soft skills in order to become good employees in the
future due to the nature of the accounting field. Meeting people and dealing with documents
require good communication skills, time management, and problem solving. Furthermore,
these soft skills benefit companies by enabling employees to deliver better services (Bancino
& Zevalkink, 2007). If students lack these soft skills, it tends to create problems in their
careers in the future. This shows that an accountant should not only have good technical skills
but also good soft skills. According to Weber et al. (2009) and Villiers (2010), employers
prefer to hire employees with a healthy blend of soft and hard skills.
According to the statement above, this study will discuss the importance of soft skills such as
communication skills, time management, and problem solving in an accounting career.
Students should be taught soft skills during their studies, along with the technical elements of
accounting before becoming accountants. Integration between soft skills and the technical
parts of accounting may enhance students’ confidence. The diagram below shows the
relationship between soft skills such as communication skills, time management, and problem
solving and an accounting career.
Diagram 1: Conceptual Framework
Communication Time
Skills Management
Accounting Firm
Audit Firm
Soft Skills Accounting Career
Taxation Firm
Solving Private
The diagram above shows the elements of soft skills that are considered in this study,
basically based on Table 2.1, which shows the top five soft skills from the employers
perspective. According to Weaver and Kulesza (2013) and Hart Research Associates (2013),
problem solving is one of the top five priorities from the employers perspective. According
to Weaver and Kulesza (2013) and Holtzman and Kraft (2011), time management is a very
important soft skill that should be learned by students. Hart Research Associates (2013),
AICPA Vision 2011 (1999), LEAP (2007), and Blanthorne, Bhamornsiri, and Guinn (2005)
show that communication skills should be mastered by students.
Table 2.1 Top Five Soft Skills from the Employers Perspective
Top Five Soft Skills
Weaver &
Management &
Problem Solving
Ethics and
& Kraft
al Skills
Adapting to
tion Skills
Leadership Skills
Strategic &
Skills in
Critical Thinking
and Analytical
Creativity and
ri, &
Source: Weaver, P., & Kulesza, M. (2014). Critical skills for new accounting hires: Whats
missing from traditional college education? Academy of Business Research Journal, 4, 34
Soft Skills and Accounting Career
Soft skills are learned during secondary school and continue in tertiary institutions. Research
shows that for accounting students, soft skills are associated with an accounting career.
Therefore, previous studies emphasized the need for soft skills in accounting (Hassal et al.,
2010; Johnston & McGregor, 2005). For accounting students, learning soft skills is linked
with better intelligence and knowledge. Soft skills tend to enhance valued, which is linked
with better employability.
There are many questions that need to be addressed regarding soft skills and accounting
career issues. For example, how do soft skills enhance the confidence level of students? How
serious is it for accountants to have soft skills in their career? How do soft skills increase firm
performance? What happens if a student lacks soft skills, and what effect does this have on a
company? Without soft skills, are students able to get a job in the accounting field? Who
should take responsibility if the employability of students is low? What role should be played
by Malaysia Institute Accountant to ensure that future accountants are capable? All of these
questions are very important to answer for the practice at the educational level in order to
ensure that the employability of accounting students is high. If not, it shows that the
curriculum is not relevant to the industrial practice. Hissey (2002) stated that it is generally
recognized by the industry that the repertoire of skills that successful employees bring to the
workplace has two components: technical skills and soft skills.
Higher education institutions tend to focus on industrial requirements, especially soft skills.
Employers prefer to have employees with more soft skills, along with better technical skills.
Without better soft skills, employees possibly face difficulty completing their tasks on time.
Understanding the requirement of soft skills in the workplace, higher education institutions
emphasize the need for soft skills subjects for students to provide value in their future careers.
What is the implication to the employability of the student? When the student can fulfil the
requirements of the employee, it increases his or her employability and indicates the
curriculum’s relevance. In addition, integration between solid accounting and analytical skills
and soft skills enhance employability (De Villiers, 2010).
One of the key performance indicators of higher education institutions is employability. If
students are able to get a job 6 months after completing their study, they are considered to
have better employability. Therefore, if students have extra skills, it is possible for them to
join the industry earlier. The diagram below shows the relationship between soft skills and
Diagram 1: The Relationship Between Soft Skills and Employability
Soft skills
The diagram above shows the relationship between soft skills and employability. The more
soft skills students have, the higher their employability. This shows that students should be
provided with soft skills subjects or activities so that they can get a job easily.
Although soft skills are very important, the question is, what types of soft skills are really
needed by employers? Should students learn all the soft skills? We know that soft skills
involve many elements, so which ones are priorities that need to put into the curriculum?
These questions should be taken seriously by those who have the authority to design the
curriculum. Students should not be burdened by too many subjects during their studies.
Previous studies (e.g., Blanthorne, Bhamornsiri, & Guinn, 2005; EAP, 2007; Hart Research
Associates, 2013; Holtzman & Kraft, 2011; Weaver & Kulesza, 2013) show the importance
of soft skills needed by employers. The studies show that the elements of soft skills that
should be learned by students are problem solving (Hart Research Associates, 2013; Weaver
& Kulesza, 2013), communication skills (Blanthorne et al., 2005; Holtzman & Kraft, 2011),
time management (Holtzman & Kraft, 2011; Weaver & Kulesza, 2013), and critical thinking
(Hart Research Associates, 2013).
Accounting is a professional career that requires good technical skills. An excellent
accountant can be determined by looking at his or her qualifications, such as good grades in
accounting subjects. This is very important for companies to ensure that future accountants
have the ability to carry out the necessary tasks. However, accountants need other skills along
with their higher technical skills in order to become good accountants. Students, in addition
to the technical skills required for an accounting career, also need to develop social or
emotional intelligence (Golemon, 2004). According to Rumble (1998), an accountant is
required to have soft skills and competencies in order to provide high-quality professional
services to clients.
Even though technical or hard skills will always be a priority for accounting students, soft
skills should be considered important to survive and compete in the dynamic and complex
business world (French & Coppage, 2000; Kermis & Kermis, 2008; Ng, 2000). This indicates
that technical skills should be combined with soft skills to lead to better employability.
Technical skills refer to the ability of an accountant to complete the account matter for the
client on time without delay or further discussion . The complexity of accounting treatment
can be handled by the accountant very well. The transactions are posted in the correct column
without any errors. Furthermore, the company is very happy with this situation according to
the cost reduction and profit increase. Even when an account has been completed, sometimes
the clients still have issues to discuss, especially related with tax matters. Therefore,
employers are less interested to pay fees in that amount. Thus, the accountant needs to deal
with the client and explain the amount without affecting the company profit. This situation
requires the graduate to have soft skills such as problem solving in order to satisfy the
demands of complex work situations (Quek, 2005). This shows that the understanding of
clients is very important to create trust and integrity.
Communication skills
Without effective communication skills, can fraud possibly occur? This question is very
serious to address because the integrity of accountants can be questioned. Furthermore, what
is the relationship between communication skills and fraud? Fraud is a big crime that can
possibly to contribute to company bankruptcy. Who tends to commit fraud? It is a person
who knows the accounting procedures. Therefore, without effective communication, the
clients could possibly think that the company prefers to manipulate the money. This may
result in a communication barrier between the accountant and clients due to the fact that the
clients do not understand accounting procedures. The implication of this notion is that it
contributes toward manipulation by the accountant for personal benefit.
Company survival depends on the number of clients, and their satisfaction is a priority.
Therefore, the company has a responsibility to explain and clarify to clients to ensure their
understanding regarding the company’s financial status. This shows that communication and
technical skills are very important to client satisfaction. If the accountant is unable to
communicate effectively and clients have little understanding, it tends to create a bad
perception of companies.
Communication between employer and employee is very important to ensure the task is
completed effectively. The implication is that costs tend to be reduced and profits increase
because fewer mistakes are made. However, a break in communication could possibly
influence the performance, which is linked with an increase in cost. In addition,
communication skills are associated with cost and profit for a company. In order to ensure the
employability is higher, students should be taught communication skills, either through co-
curriculum activities or during class.
How to link communication skills and accounting students? As we know, there are many
activities during class, such as excises, tutorials, or case studies. Therefore, sharing answers is
required and part of soft skills to gain, such as communication skills, which require
presenting answers to others. Presentation is required to provide space for others to address
answers if they have less understanding. This shows that a question and answer session is
associated with communication skills. Furthermore, students participating in co-curriculum
activities such as sports and student body could possibly develop communication skills.
Co-curriculum activities associated with soft skills balance the curriculum and lead to better
employability. Most of the sports and uniform body activities involve soft skills such as
communication skills. Furthermore, games, exercises, and outdoor activities could increase
students’ communication skills. However, effective communication skills depend on
participation between the lecturer and students. In addition, students need to know the
benefits of better communication linked with their future career. Therefore, the lecturer needs
to ensure that students participate in all activities in order to gain better communication skills.
Time management
Accounting students need to learn how to manage their time during their studies to ensure
that they are able to apply time management skills to their future work. For employers, time
management is very important because it provides value for money. Without good time
management, a company could possibly face financial difficulty because the job is not
completed on time and costs may arise. Employers are very happy if their employees come to
work on time. No discipline matter among employees regarding time management may cause
company performance to increase.
How can time management skills be applied for accounting students? Are time management
and performance related? The lecturer plays a role to ensure that his or her students come
early. This is good practice for students to be punctual and learn how to manage their time.
Students who come late to class should be punished to create awareness of how important
time management is. Without punishment, students may take for granted that they can come
early or late.
Accounting students should be taught how time management may affect company
performance. For example, a company is required to complete a client account during 2
weeks, which means that the full set of accounting financial statements should be delivered to
the client within that time. If the account is not completed during the 2 weeks, it could
possibly result in increased costs, such as utilities and wage expenses. The implication of this
notion is that clients are not happy with the services provided. This shows that a lack of time
management skills could affect company performance.
Time management is associated with cost and profit for a company. Cost tends to increase if
the task cannot be completed on time, which affects the profit. The question is, how can time
management practices by accounting students be applied toward their future careers?
Accounting students are busy with lectures, tutorials, assignments, and presentations for
which they are required to submit materials according to the timeline. The classroom
activities tend to lead to better time management and are beneficial for future careers. In
addition, other skills such as problem solving can be transferred through the activities.
Problem solving
Problem solving skills are very important in terms of customer satisfaction and accounting
regulation. Customers usually prefer lower tax payments, which are very costly for them. At
the same time, they want the profitability to be higher, which is important to link with new
investments. This situation may attract potential investors to invest in companies. If the
accountant prefers to follow the customer’s desire, he or she may break the accounting
regulations, which would impact his or her reputation. This requires accountants to have good
problem solving skills in order to satisfy each party.
Furthermore, accountants should know how to properly handle the clients account, which is
important. If documents cannot be provided during preparation of the account, the accountant
should know how to solve the problem. The documents are very important in accounting as
evidence. Even if the client’s documents are not well prepared, the accountant should
complete the financial statement. Therefore, without activities in the classroom, students may
not learn problem solving skills. The implication of this notion it that the interview stage
could possibly be difficult for the students.
What types of classroom activities can be applied toward problem solving skills? This study
looks at classroom activities such as tutorials or exercises. For exercise activities, the lecturer
may set a time limit for completing the questions and require students to solve the problems
within a certain time frame. Thus, students would need to think and write down the answers
quickly. Each student should have equal chance to be involved in the activities. Answers
should be discussed during the class to ensure that students can see their mistakes and try to
improve on them.
Diagram 2.3 Relationship Between Activities and Problem Solving Skills
Problem solving skills
The diagram above indicates the relationship between activities and problem solving skills.
The more activities are provided in the classroom, the more problem solving skills will
increase. It is very important for all students to participate in activities to ensure equal change
among the students. Benefits from the activities can be applied to their work. Creativity by
lecturers and serious participation by students during problem solving activities is linked with
better employability.
Relationship between students’ soft skills and future career skills
The academic content of education leads to the development of skills that are not explicitly
listed in the curriculum yet are acquired by students via participation in the various activities
making up an academic course (Caruna, 2011). The participation of students is very
important to ensure that skills are developed via the curriculum that can be transferred and
used in future careers. Therefore, all the activities in the classroom must be designed
purposefully to transfer the skills to students, whether they are technical or soft skills.
The table below highlights the elements of the curriculum to transfer the skills to students.
Accounting students gain soft skills during studies through curriculum and co-curriculum
activities. The soft skills can be applied during their work as accountants.
Table 2.2 Relationship Between Curriculum and Soft Skills
Problem solving
Case study
Problem solving
Problem solving
Question and
Problem solving
Problem solving
Uniform body
Question and
Problem solving
Problem solving
Outdoor activities
Problem solving
According to Table 2.2, the soft skills gained by students during their studies in tertiary
institutions benefit their future careers. Furthermore, Diagram 2.4 below shows the soft skills
required as accountants due to the nature of the work.
Diagram 2.4 Skills in Future Career
Communication Time management
- Clients - Submit documents
- Boss - Complete tasks
- Colleagues - Meetings
- Authority - Punch card
Problem solving
Task Account,
Audit, & Tax
3.0 Conclusion
The previous discussion shows that soft skills are necessary in the accounting field, where
without good soft skills, it is harder for students to penetrate the market. According to this
situation, soft skills should be taught in higher education institutions, which is beneficial to
reduce costs and leads better firm performance. Furthermore, technical skills such as
accounting knowledge are also important and should be a priority to be hired as an
Accounting is a professional career that requires good technical skills in order to carry out the
tasks easily. However, good technical skills do not guarantee that a task can be completed
because the accounting field requires good soft skills such as time management,
communication skills, and problem solving. A combination of technical and soft skills is an
advantage for an accounting firm to survive in very competitive business nowadays.
Employers are interested in hiring multitasking employees because it may save costs. Good
communication skills enable employees to satisfy client requirements. Task can be completed
on time when the employee has good time management and problem solving skills. All of
these things may be applicable to reducing costs without further delay, ensuring that the
client is happy to continue using the firm’s services and leading to better firm performance.
This study suggests that higher education institutions have a responsibility to provide a
curriculum that emphasizes soft skills linked with the accounting field. Furthermore, top
management at higher education institutions, especially in Politeknik Malaysia, should
seriously look into this matter because it is related to employability. Better employability will
result in a better perception of the public, resulting in Politeknik Malaysia being a first choice
of higher education for their children.
Furthermore, creativity of the lecturer during class tends to enhance students’ soft skill
development. Lecturers need to ensure that all students participate in all activities because it
is associated with gaining soft skills. Better policies developed by management and applied
by lecturers lead to better soft skills among the students and possibly to better employability.
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The curricula in tertiary education have become more and more "market-driven " because they are strongly influenced by rigid professional ac-counting examination syllabuses. This paper explores how accounting education may be improved and re-oriented to effectively train quality professionals to meet the new requirements and challenges of the twenty-first century. A survey of first-line managers in the manufacturing sector was conducted to obtain their perceptions on the general deficiencies and qualifications of accounting graduates. The findings give educators a useful guide as to how future accounting curricula and teaching methods should be planned and modified in order to prepare graduates to cope successfully with a fast-changing business environment.
Modern professional practice requires not only recognized 'technical' skills, but also high-level generic or 'soft' professional skills. Recent professional negligence claims suggest that technically well-qualified professionals with deficiencies in these generic skills may fail to effectively identify and satisfy client requirements, contributing to the professional indemnity insurance (PII) crisis which has developed in the last few years. In 2003, the Federal, State and Territory attorneys agreed to introduce legislation to address the PII crisis. The NSW Professional Standards Council (PSC) now has national responsibility for reviewing current continuing professional development (CPD) programs and improving their effectiveness. As a first step, the PSC commissioned a discussion paper, followed by a forum reviewing its findings. In this paper we review the PSC paper and forum, with a focus on their relevance to engineering education. We explore four central areas for action that we believe need to be addressed by engineering educators: integration of CPD with undergraduate programs; attention to broad ethical and futures issues, including sustainability; clarification of the nomenclature describing these skills; and the importance of internships to the development of generic competencies. We also challenge two widely held assumptions about professional practice. The first is that the generic skills essential to successful professional practice can be readily acquired after graduation through professional induction and CPD programs. The second is that these 'soft' practice skills are somehow less demanding and less academically challenging than the 'technical' skills which are the almost exclusive content of most professional qualifications, including those in engineering. We argue that the investigation of generic professional practice skills and their development is a critically important area of scholarship that must be incorporated into engineering research and teaching (Asia-Pacific
Current economic conditions have changed the dynamics of all employment, including accounting, which traditionally has had a supply shortfall. CPA firms are beginning to lay off experienced people for the first time in ten years, while still hiring new staff accountants. The AICPA Vision 2011 Project has added soft skills to the list of core competencies that successful accountants should possess. Therefore, a case can be made that accounting educators have a responsibility to help prepare students to make the transition from unfocused high school seniors to contributing members of a professional service team. It is incumbent upon accounting educators to prepare students to be competitive in the unfolding economic future. In summary, technical skills are necessary but not sufficient for a successful accounting career that includes an individual's selection, retention and advancement. An incremental laboratory experience was designed to create an environment for soft skill development that does not diminish the attention to accounting theory and technical development. The mandatory experience was added to two required accounting classes starting in the spring of sophomore year. The lab was based on an assessment of needs identified by the profession in a series of interviews and considerations of the professional development literature. The lab experience includes: (1) Professional Motivation, (2) Emotional Intelligence, (3) Soft Skill Development, (4) Career Skills, and (5) Time Management. These specific skills are grounded in the context of emotional intelligence (Golemon, 2004), which focuses on student's individual responsibility for creating their own professional futures. This laboratory experience has a dual focus - of satisfying the needs of students and the accounting firms that employ them by creating mature professionals able to maximize the contribution they make over their entire career. The experience is designed to have students take ownership of their professional future early in their accounting education, resulting in their having a satisfying experience in their studies and ultimately, their career.
Purpose This study seeks to address empirically the current state of generic competencies considered to be important for successful work performance among Malaysian graduate employees. This study also aims to explain the elements of generic competencies that are needed to complement the tertiary training of students in workplace learning. Design/methodology/approach Using the survey method, questionnaires (validated by a pilot test and with a Cronbach's alpha of 0.81) were administered to a purposive sample of graduate employees ( n =32). Findings Responses were factor‐analysed and correlated through the Pearson product‐moment correlation procedure. Drawing from the significant correlations ( p <0.01) of the factors extracted, this study highlights interpersonal skills, knowledge‐acquiring skills and flexibility as being highly important in contributing toward success in work performance. Additionally, these graduate employees also expressed value‐improving skills, practical orientation abilities and cognitive skills as being important for successful work performance. These generic competencies are important for enabling Malaysian graduate employees to transfer learning from the classroom to the workplace for success in work performance. Research limitations/implications Given the financial constraints, this study is limited to Malaysian graduate employees. Therefore, the generalisability of the results is limited to other situations that are similar to the one discussed in this study. Originality/value In the Malaysian context, tertiary training probably needs to consider the development of generic competencies in students so as to enable them to transfer tertiary learning to meet the changing demands of the workplace when they graduate. In this direction additional research is recommended in Malaysia so that graduates can be better trained to contribute successfully in the workplace.
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to identify, prioritise, and contrast the needs in terms of the development of vocational skills in final year undergraduate accounting students from two distinct countries. The study aims to survey and analyse the views of Malaysian and UK students. Design/methodology/approach – A questionnaire was used to gather the data. Quantitative analysis was then used as the basis of a comparative study. The data for this study were collected via questionnaires completed by Malaysian exchange students on their arrival at UK university and the students of that UK university. Findings – The results indicate that both sets of students accept the need to develop vocational skills in order to perform competently as an accountant. There is however clear differences in the views of the Malaysian and UK students concerning the specific skills that they perceive as being priorities to be developed. The students also hold differing views of the major barriers to the development of vocational skills in higher education. Originality/value – Previous studies have established the need to prioritise vocational skills development. Studies have also established the views of employers and students. This study contrasts the views of students from two contrasting contexts. The study establishes that students from differing countries perceive differing priorities in terms of vocational skills not only between students but also between students and the currently stated views of employers and professional bodies internationally.
In this article, the authors talk about the importance of soft skills for hard-core technical professionals. In many technical professions, the complete focus of education and training is on technical topics either directly or indirectly related to a career or discipline. Students are generally required to master various mathematics skills, science skills and detailed technical skills directly related to the specific discipline they are planning to enter. This curriculum is critical to their success, and yet the fast-paced, global marketplace of today is demanding more. Technical professionals in various disciplines such as information technology, engineering, architecture, and research and development are increasingly required to broaden their skill sets to master the so-called soft skills. Soft skills, as defined by Wikipedia, are "the cluster of personality traits, social graces, facility with language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that mark people to varying degrees. Soft skills complement hard skills, which are the technical requirements of a job." Furthermore, the authors present the three driving forces behind business leaders' increasing demand for a broader skill set from technical professionals: (1) necessity for improvements to the bottom line; (2) increasing competition; and (3) globalization.