Careers focus: Africa

How have global economic conditions impacted on the demand for accountancy skills in Africa? Calum Robson talks to local experts in four African ACCA strongholds

Although it took longer for the global recession to exert its grip on Africa than in other parts of the world, the continent has nevertheless been affected by the slowdown, with the lowest-income countries hardest hit. But many economies are proving more resilient than experts originally predicted. Meanwhile, Africa’s natural resources are attracting high levels of foreign investment. How does this translate into the market for finance professionals?

Ghana: open to go-getters

Ghana is home to a thriving mining sector, especially gold, along with minerals such as bauxite and diamonds. Professor Kwame Omane-Antwi, who teaches at the School of Business, University of Cape Coast in Ghana, says employers primarily look for accountants who can think in a global context: ‘They place a high value on strong analytical skills,’ he says. ‘And it’s important that accountants are aware of what’s going on in the wider economy.’

The Ghanaian banking sector has been stepping up its efforts to recruit accountants, largely propelled by the problems caused by poor credit assessment prior to the economic downturn: ‘Banks are concerned about implementing controls and compliance with stringent lending policies and rigid corporate governance procedures,’ says Professor Omane-Antwi. ‘Accountants are being relied on to devise serious internal controls to ensure the survival of the banks.’

‘Computing and telecoms companies are also taking on accountants,’ says Professor Omane-Antwi. ‘There are also more manufacturing organisations, especially multinationals, establishing themselves here. Our abundance of natural resources has also been attracting increasing investment – the mining and oil sectors are proving magnets for foreign companies.’

While oil and gas companies will normally look to recruit cost accountants locally, demand also exists for expatriates, at financial controller level, according to Clive Green of recruiters Hays International: ‘Employers are much more likely to specify that these candidates have previous international experience,’ he says. ‘It used to be the case that ACCAs could relocate to countries like Nigeria or Ghana without having worked elsewhere – but with the supply of potential candidates increasing, employers can be more specific in their requirements.’

Commercially-focused accountants are trying their luck in the free market. ‘More students are setting their sights on establishing their own business after qualifying,’ says Professor Omane-Antwi. ‘Typically, they’ll take a full-time job, study ACCA at home and be eager to start a private enterprise soon after qualifying. There are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of what is a fairly sound economy.’

South Africa: reaching out to returners

One of the elite G20 group of economies, South Africa enjoys well-developed infrastructure, sophisticated financial and legal systems and plenty of natural resources – but its world status masks a somewhat two-speed economy. That said, the government is making overtures to South African nationals who qualified as accountants at home but have since sought to advance their careers overseas.

‘The retail, manufacturing and hospitality sectors are most actively seeking professionally qualified accountants at the moment,’ says Jan Coetzee, managing director of recruiter Manpower Professional in Johannesburg. ‘Skills in greatest demand are financial management, financial control and management accounts, as well as credit control.’

Despite the volatility of the market, candidates in South Africa who decide to venture forth with their CVs might find themselves pulled in opposite directions. ‘Candidates are certainly much more cautious about changing employers in these uncertain times,’ says Coetzee. ‘It’s simply fear of the unknown for many. Yet counter‑offers are par for the course for good candidates – companies will always want to hold on to their talent.’

According to Clive Green of recruiters Hays International, the South African economy was given a shot in the arm after being awarded the 2010 FIFA World Cup, with an enormous boost to infrastructure and construction. But he says, ‘Because of employment legislation, it’s more difficult to work there if you’re not a South African national; visa and employment restrictions are fairly severe.’

But employers are keen to recruit returning South African accountants with international experience. In fact, says Coetzee, ‘For more senior roles, experience overseas will count heavily in your favour.’

"The retail, manufacturing and hospitality sectors are most actively seeking professionally qualified accountants at the moment"