The Benefits of a Formal Qualification in the Accounting Industry

There are lots of different ways to start your career in the field of accounting. Most people go through continuing education (whether VET or higher ed) and find a graduate or entry level position. But others start by working in a related role, such as payroll or accounts payable. Some even start by working in a clerical role before pursuing on-the-job training. The point is, there are lots of pathways to working in an accountancy practice or in the accounts department of a larger organisation.

If you’re weighing up whether study is worthwhile, here are a few benefits you should consider.

Stronger knowledge

When you’re learning on the job, you tend to only learn exactly what you need to do the job in front of you and no more. You get to know how to fill out a specific form, return, spreadsheet etc. In other words, you might become very good at routine work, but end up struggling with anything even a bit out of the ordinary.

Stronger, more well-rounded knowledge is necessary for you to make well-informed critical decisions. For example, if you want to provide management accounting advice, you’ll also need background knowledge in business management and economics. Or if you want to be able to help clients with unique circumstances, you’ll need to be confident in your research abilities.

Courses that lead to formal qualifications are designed to give you a strong, well-rounded knowledge base that you can use to confidently take on new tasks. When studying towards a qualification, you’ll learn how to do certain tasks, but you’ll also learn why things work the way they work. An accounting education also gives you the planning and study skills you need for future professional development – essential for staying ahead of the curve.

To work as an accountant, the minimum qualification is a diploma. However, most practicing accountants undertake a Bachelor of Accounting, or a different bachelor degree (like Business) with a major in accounting. Bookkeepers may establish a career through extensive work experience, but a minimum Certificate IV qualification is the most common route. Payroll officers and accounts clerks can work without formal qualifications, but most who stay in the field do some form of VET as a minimum. For these other roles, a formal qualification leads to another important benefit…

Higher employability

In today’s job market, there’s a big difference between the minimum standard, and what you need to stand out of the crowd. When it comes to accounting-related roles, many employers either require a formal qualification, or indicate that a qualification is ‘preferred’ or ‘desired’. To test this, try searching for entry-level accounts roles on any job search engine.

There are a few reasons for this. First, employers recognise that formal qualifications are more or less a guarantee that you’ve proven your knowledge and understanding in key areas. Taking the time to study is also a good way to show that you’re dedicated to the job, and that it’s really what you want to do.

More career opportunities

Accounting and accounting-related services exist in a kind of regulatory grey area. It’s not that the laws that exist on accounting related jobs are unclear; the regulators do a great job of making everything as simple as possible. It’s more that not every accounting-related job is regulated or requires professional regulation. For example, you may be able to work as an accounts clerk or a bookkeeper in a small business without formal qualifications. Contrast that with, say, medicine and healthcare, where most roles require a minimum formal qualification by law (except for some clerical and housekeeping positions).

Working around the world

Have you ever considered travelling and working overseas? In most countries, a formal qualification in accounting is the most straightforward way to show potential employers that your skills are compatible with their needs and the work you will be doing. In some situations, it’s simply easier for an employer to verify your education than to contact previous employers and enquire as to the responsibilities you had in your role/s.

A qualification is also critical (in most jurisdictions) to getting a skilled worker visa or an employer-sponsored visa. In Australia, most skilled worker visa subclasses require a qualification, either as a core condition, as part of the ‘points system’, or as part of the skills assessment carried out by the relevant assessing authority. Other countries have similar requirements. For example, in the United States, three of the five employment based immigrant visa categories require an educational qualification. In the United Kingdom, the work visa sponsorship rules say that most jobs in the accounting field require at least the equivalent of a diploma-level qualification in Australia.

NB: it’s critical to check the official government website of your preferred destination, or with a registered professional migration agent from that country, before making any important decisions about working overseas.

Professional networking opportunities

Joining a professional association (like the IPA) is a great way to further your career through professional networking events, continuing education and professional development, professional certifications, and more. If you aim to manage a practice or work as a sole practitioner, membership of a professional association can help improve potential clients’ level of trust and confidence in your expertise and abilities.

Most professional associations and peak bodies require members to have at least a Certificate IV level qualification, or to be studying towards an accounting qualification. This gets the applicant some way towards an associate membership or student membership. Full membership, or higher levels of membership, may then require a postgraduate qualification as well. Take a look at the IPA membership pathways as an example.

Still not sure if studying is for you? There are tons of pathways to an accounting qualification; it’s not all about on-campus study, or years of poring through textbooks. In fact, online study at VET level is a great way to balance your career advancement goals with your current work and personal commitments, whilst keeping your options for uni study open in the future. Check out the Certificate IV, Diploma and Advanced Diploma education options available through our education provider of choice, Monarch Institute. You can enrol anytime, study online and work through the course at your own pace.