Becoming a chartered accountant through the postgraduate Chartered Accountants Program has never been a walk in the park, but help will soon be at hand for candidates who are struggling.
- Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand is piloting a Candidate Progression and Support Programme which aims to help CA Program candidates who are struggling to juggle work and study.
- Employers differ in how much time they allow CA Program candidates for study or for exams.
- The Programme identifies candidates who are at risk of not meeting their progression requirements for the CA Program and offers them support.
Studying while working full time can turn a busy life into a very busy one. Welcome to the world of provisional chartered accountants.
Prospective CAs must complete the CA Program, a postgraduate course, while working in the profession to complete their qualification. It is widely viewed as a rigorous and challenging course that stretches candidates’ professionalism and time management skills.
Senior programme specialist at Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand Matthew Watson is leading the development of a Candidate Progression and Support Programme which aims to help people who are struggling to juggle work and study. The programme is currently being piloted.
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“We identify candidates who are at risk of not meeting their progression requirements for the CA Program, for whatever reasons they may be. We then provide them with the appropriate support,” says Watson, who holds a masters of accounting and is also a member of the CA Program content development team.
“We are developing a series of bite-sized learnings or micro-modules that candidates can elect to do to help keep them on track.
“For example, someone who has problems completing exams within the time limit will be offered modules that help with exam time management. If someone’s study technique is not effective, he or she can complete the module on critical file development.”
Years of work
The CA Program is made up of five modules and candidates must complete three years of mentored practical experience.
“For some of our candidates this can take longer than three years to complete. And for some, it takes significantly longer,” says Watson.
“The content of the CA Program is more challenging than a university degree, and the assessment integrates a number of topics, which calls for deeper learning.”
Consequently, Watson says, Chartered Accountants ANZ has identified a need to support candidates who have failed a module multiple times.
From next year, after failing a module twice without sufficient success in between, candidates must show why they should stay in the CA Program.
Exam anxiety and study skills
CA ANZ has identified multiple reasons students get into difficulties during the CA Program.
“Often these struggles are not just academic challenges. They tend to be in the wellbeing space. One such example might be that they are having exam anxiety,” says Watson.
Initially, the Candidate Progression and Support Programme will provide content to help candidates self-identify wellbeing issues such as exam anxiety, and then will refer them to external providers such as Beyond Blue and Reach Out for support.
Another common area of difficulty is study skills. The CA Program uses an open-book exam model, and while candidates may have done such exams at university, many are not sure how to prepare for them in the CA Program environment.
“Candidates predominantly have completed all of their required study prior to the exam, but then often spend time during the exam looking for answers in their notes rather than thinking through the questions and responding accordingly. This demonstrates a gap in their preparation as well as lack of development of a critical file which is set up for rapid access to information as needed. “We will also have modules to help the candidates develop these important skills.”
The CA Program requires students to use critical-thinking skills in exams, yet many candidates mistakenly think that regurgitating facts and figures will be enough, says Watson. This will be another area of development.
At university, many students tend to have support from their families, careers advisers and counsellors on campus.
“However, when they enter the workforce they are left to themselves to work out how they can create the work-life balance which will include time for their CA studies.”
“Most candidates are in their mid-20s to early 30s. They are starting to have families and different social lives. This impacts on the time they have available for study – a challenge they’re not used to managing.”
Most candidates are in their mid-20s to early 30s. They are starting to have families and different social lives. This impacts on the time they have available for study.
The CA Program comprises a minimum of ten hours study a week – time many find it very difficult to set aside, says Watson.
“Some study late into the night while others will hold their studies over to weekends. This is difficult as they often find they sacrifice social life, physical activity and family life.
“The CA Program can be a tough commitment; however, with good time management and study skills it should be very do-able.”
Candidates at smaller firms
Candidates at large employers can often access a broad range of professional activity and tend to get a greater level of internal support for their studies.
“There are candidates working at small firms or employers, or are isolated geographically, and they don’t have access to all areas of the accounting profession, so they can’t see the wider aspects of the profession.”
Employers also differ in how much time they allow candidates for study or for exams.
“In the larger firms, there is often a stronger move to make sure candidates are supported,” says Watson.
The support programme is aimed at helping to redress this balance.
The support programme will be open to all candidates but mandatory for those at risk of not meeting their progression requirements. Candidates considered to be at high risk will receive additional support.
The bite-sized learnings and micro modules will address the main issues that cause candidates trouble. Additional support will be recommended based on a candidate’s answers to a questionnaire asking them to reflect on everything from time management and study technique through to work-life-study balance and the difficulties with specific content in the CA Program.
“From my perspective, I have seen so many challenges the candidates have faced. I want to help them through the process and to provide as much support as possible to help them achieve their career goals and point them in the right direction.”
“We are a membership body and these candidates are our future members. We want to provide them with the right to a good experience in the CA Program, so they can be high quality chartered accountants in the future.”
There is a compliance issue
The CA Program must comply with the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 (TEQSA Act) in Australia, which aims to provide for national consistency in the regulation of higher education.
Successful candidates in the CA Program are granted a Graduate Diploma in Chartered Accounting (GradDipCA).
The TEQSA Act puts obligations on the organisations providing higher education courses and one of those obligations is the requirement to offer students support if they are having trouble completing their course.
“Because the CA program is a postgraduate qualification, we must comply with the TEQSA Act as we are a tertiary education provider,” says Watson. “This act has a principle that students must be supported with their studies.”
Get support now
Candidates who need help should contact the Candidate Progression and Support Programme now by emailing [email protected]
Anthony O’Brien is a journalist and communications adviser based in Sydney.
This article first appeared in the June/July 2017 issue of Acuity magazine.