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Abstract

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This cross-cultural study examined the career choices of Asian, black and white students at the University of Pretoria to identify the factors motivating Accountancy students to become chartered accountants (CAs), as only 2.5% (609) of 24 308 registered CAs in South Africa in 2005 were black, and only 6% (1573) were Indian. Understanding the attitudes and the perceptions of CA first-year students (identifying key career choice factors) can help course administrators/curriculum designers (the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) and the Public Accountants and Auditors’ Board (PAAB)) to align marketing and recruiting strategies with specific personal occupational preferences of different racial groups enrolled for local CA courses.

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Factors such as decision time-frame of career choice, socio-economic background, students’ perceptions of the benefits/constraints of the CA profession, and other job-related factors, were analysed. Students attributed their career choice to their school Accounting performance. Most chose this career in Grades 8 to 11. All three groups like the availability of employment as a CA. Constraints were the cost of qualifying (according to black students), and the difficulty of qualifying (Asian and white students).

Keywords: Career choice, accounting major selection, racial groups, job selection.

1Introduction

Finding a balance between the demand for and the supply of quality chartered accountants (CAs) has become a problem not only for the CA profession in South Africa, but also for institutions that produce these graduates. As far back as the 1990s, Hermanson, Hermanson and Ivancevich (1995) noted that the accounting profession in the USA was facing a major problem, namely to attract top students who had both the substantial accounting knowledge and the strong communication, technical and analytical skills that are required in the increasingly complex environment in which the chartered accounting profession operates.

In meeting their respective needs, the employers and trainers of CAs therefore need to examine the criteria that individuals consider when they select a career as a CA.

The purpose of the study on which this article reports was to examine empirically which factors influence the career choice of students of various racial groups in South Africa who have decided to become CAs. First-year students at the University of Pretoria were used in this study, as the introductory course shapes their perceptions of the profession, the aptitudes and skills needed for successful careers in accounting and the nature of career opportunities in accounting.

In order to attract and retain top students, it is essential to identify the differentiating cultural factors and economic backgrounds in general, and the students’ perceptions of the accounting profession in particular. Armed with this information, the academic ‘supplier’ will be able to improve and develop areas of the Accounting curriculum that are responsible for attracting students to Accounting as an academic major.

Several earlier career choice studies have focused on potential Accounting students in general, but they did not focus on the impact on the students’ career choices of the cultural differences between these students. Auyeung and Sands (1997) were the first researchers to conduct a cross-cultural validation of career choice factors after Gul et al. (1989) had pointed out that disregarding culture variations was one of the limitations of their study.

Auyeung and Sands (1997) examined the career choices made by students from Australia, Hong Kong and Taiwan by adopting the individualism-collectivism cultural dimension as a means to examine the relative importance of these factors in the selection of accountancy as a career. In the same year, Weil and Wegner (1997) conducted a study on the educational issues that could potentially inhibit the development of black CAs in South Africa. They found that role models were extremely important as a motivational factor for joining the accountancy profession, but that there were few such role models in the black community.

This study follows on and is based on the study of Auyeung and Sands (1997). The current study focused on the career choice determinants of a multiracial society as found in South Africa. These determinants were analysed in respect of personal characteristics such as gender, mother tongue and career attributes.

The present study used first-year accounting students of different races at the University of Pretoria to examine the criteria that these students considered in deciding to pursue a career as a CA. In 1998, the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) set a target of 3 000 black CAs for the end of 2005. By the end of November 2005, there were only 609.

Given that the SAICA target was not achieved, the study aimed to assist in the transformation process challenging the accounting profession in South Africa. The racial statistics should therefore not be regarded as being racist in intention, as the information is intended to be used to alleviate the problems and reduce the constraints that are causing a shortage of black accountants.

The primary object of the research was to analyse whether the factors that affect a choice of accounting as a career differs for various racial groups, and if so, how. The article presents the information on the study in five sections: this introduction is followed by a section that reviews prior research into factors that affect the career choices of accounting students; a section that covers the research methodology used in the study; a presentation and discussion of the statistical results of the study, and, finally, the limitations of the study are addressed, the conclusions are presented and further areas of research are proposed.

2Review of the relevant literature

Prior research on occupational choices has compared the importance of various intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence students in their choice to pursue becoming a CA or other profession as a career (Paollilo ; Estes 1982; Kockanek ; Norgaard 1985; Shivaswamy ; Hanks 1986; Reed ; Kratchman 1989; Gul et al. 1989; Bundy ; Norris 1992; Felton, Dimnik ; Northey 1994 and 1995; Ahmed, Alam ; Alam 1997; Jackman ; Hollingworth, 2004). Ahmed et al. (1997:326) define intrinsic factors as factors that are related to satisfaction derived from a job that provides the opportunity to be creative and autonomous in an intellectually challenging and dynamic environment.

They define extrinsic factors as financial remuneration and market-related factors that are extrinsic to the nature of the job itself. Ahmed et al. (1997) tested final year students in the Accounting departments of five universities in New Zealand and they found that these students gave a high priority to financial and market factors in choosing a career in chartered accountancy.

Paollilo and Estes (1982) examined the decision time-frame of career choices for four professions, namely practising accountants, attorneys, physicians and mechanical engineers. They concluded that most mechanical engineers and physicians already decided to follow that career path during their secondary school years, while accountants and attorneys decided on their careers in the first and second years of their tertiary education. By contrast, subsequent research by Hermanson et al. (1995) and Sale (2001) found that the decision to major in Accounting was also made prior to embarking on tertiary education.

A benefit-cost ratio of the CA profession approach was used in studies by Wheeler (1988) and Felton, Buhr and Northey (1994), who found that the ratio was a significant determinant of career choice factors amongst students. Felton et al. examined the correlation between the decision of fourth-year Ontario university students of whether to choose a career as a CA or not, and the importance these students attached to intrinsic rewards, financial remuneration, the students’ impression(s) of the benefits and costs of the profession, and prior exposure to high school Accounting. Felton et al. 1994 found the most important variable associated with career selection to be the relative benefits and costs of being a CA.

Disciplines selected for study in Australia by Gul et al. (1989) were Accounting, Engineering, Law and Medicine. Their findings showed that job satisfaction, earnings potential, the availability of employment and aptitude for the subject were the factors that most significantly influenced the decision to pursue Accountancy as a discipline.

Various factors such as financial remuneration ranked high on the list of decisive factors in studies by Wheeler (1983), Reha and Lu (1985), Cangelosi, Condi and Luthi (1985) and Horowitz and Riley (1990). Other factors, such as job market considerations (which encompass job satisfaction, job security, job availability, job flexibility and opportunities for advancement over the short term and long term), were found to be important in career decision studies done by Paollilo and Estes (1982), Kochanek and Norgaard (1985), Haswell and Holmes (1988) and Bundy and Norris (1992).

Kochanek and Norgaard (1985) addressed the issue of the relative importance of criteria that motivated students to select Accounting rather than other majors such as Marketing and Management. They found that job opportunities and the quality of firm personnel ranked highest on the list for men, while women ranked their passion for accounting as their main reason. On the other hand, Lowe and Simons (1997) found that Accounting majors placed the greatest importance on future earnings and the career options available to them.

The results of this study could provide information to the University of Pretoria and other universities that wish to recruit prospective chartered accounting students of all races by means of appropriate marketing strategies. The study could also provide employers with information on the aspirations of these students.

3.Research method

The career choice factors used in this study were synthesised from previous studies (as reviewed in Section 2) and the respondents were required to identify the career characteristics which they considered to be most important when they decided on a career.

A questionnaire addressed to students registered for a first-year financial accountancy course at the University of Pretoria in 2004 was used to collect the data. (Before the final questionnaire was sent out, a pilot test was done with a group of first-year students.)The questionnaires were distributed and completed during a Financial Accounting lecture to ensure a high response rate and to eliminate the problem of non-response bias. The students were briefed about the purpose of the survey.

The need for their adding their student registration number for further research purposes was explained. A five-point Likert scale was used to determine the relative importance of possible factors that may influence the student’s career choice. A rating of five suggested that the factor was extremely important and a rating of one implied it was not at all important.

The questionnaire was divided into nine data-capturing sections, namely: • the demographic profile of the respondents;
• career choice motivation;
• the importance of the benefits of the profession;
• the importance of the constraints of the profession;
• general perceptions;
• discrimination in the profession;
• career objectives; and
• future plans.

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