Don’t believe the naysayers, Millennial accounting grads are great

By Christine Contessotto PhD FPA CA and Phillip Wong MIPA CPA
May 18, 2018
Originally published at 

Download PDF here

Today’s accounting graduates will surprise you. They have a breadth of skills and experiences and are eager to be part of the profession.

The large number of students exiting with accounting degrees and the shifting demands of employers means that universities have adapted to ensure their graduates are ready for employment. Just as today’s accounting profession has changed significantly, so too have the young accounting graduates entering the industry.

So, what can an employer expect from an accounting graduate? Accountants must comply with a range of standards, regulations and laws, thus employers can expect that a recent graduate with an accounting degree will have a working knowledge across these technical areas.

Graduates have experience in applying accounting standards and understand the conflicting incentives inherent in accounting decisions. While not yet experts, they are keen to apply and expand their technical skills to problems faced by real world clients.

The increasing quantity of and complexity in, regulations, tax law, accounting and auditing standards, mean that accounting degrees cannot include all standards, but graduates’ digital literacy skills mean that they can locate the resources they need for each task.

Born in the age of Google, many Millennials are naturally adept at researching and compiling a coherent product from vastly different information sources.

Millennial accounting graduates are online and communicate across borders. Graduates can use technologies to identify, evaluate, synthesise, share and communicate information. Young accountants often come with an advanced knowledge of PDF manipulation, photo and video editing skills.

Millennials are often masters at working collaboratively online through the use of social media and other networking tools. Many will willingly use these skills in their employer’s organisation. Social media marketing is extremely inexpensive and offers a genuine connection with clients.

Senior staff often dread this type of task, but many graduates would be happy to undertake these tasks purely because they enjoy it. Of course, there are risks in the social media space, so we recommend employers assist their new graduates in navigating this space.

Throughout their university degree, students are required to demonstrate a range of communication skills. Modern assessments go beyond the traditional essay-and-test paradigm. Over their degree, students are faced with assessments which involve face-to-face presentations, video presentations, business reports, interviews, self-reflections, business simulations, debates, peer review and of course the provision of accounting advice.

Thus, even graduates from technically-focused majors such as accounting are expected to be able to communicate to the accountant and non-accountant alike. They often have skills that you may not expect. For example, graduates are capable of producing video instruction manuals with screenshots or recording video updates to be sent to clients. This can set your business apart.

Graduates in the workplace

Graduates have studied in a multi-cultural environment with international students from an extensive range of cultures and religions in every class. Many will have travelled overseas; some will have studied aboard on an exchange program or with a university sponsored international study tour. Employing international students often opens doors to markets that can be harder to access. For example, employing a graduate from a Chinese background may help you provide advice in the Chinese community.

Ultimately, there is no substitute for real world experience, but the modern university experience does provide a proxy. An accounting graduate has been exposed to real-life topical business issues, including sustainability and integrated reporting. Some may have undertaken business internships. Accounting graduates have undertaken authentic learning activities to develop their problem solving and critical thinking skills. They can identify a range of alternatives and identity solutions to a diverse range of problems. They are often mindful of the need to balance social issues with profit. They may lack both experience and maturity but you may be surprised at their solutions as they think “outside the box”.

Graduates have had to self-manage. Unlike previous generations, the vast majority of students hold part-time jobs. The demands of simultaneous work and study mean that modern graduates have solid time management skills and understand workplace expectations.

Most have extensive experience in dealing with customers and with teamwork. Although frequently their work experience has not been within a professional context, they will often have a strong understanding of the supply chain, of OH&S requirements and industrial settings from their former workplace. Graduates have learnt to take personal responsibility for their actions, and to self-reflect their performance.

Most of all, employers can expect to find a person eager to make their start in what they see as the real world. They are keen to leave behind their schooling, to be respected for the work they complete and to be treated by society as adults.

They are at an exciting stage of their lives and they are looking forward to working in a career and an organisation that will enable them to further develop their professional accounting skills.

Far from being universally lazy or entitled, many Millennials are eager for recognition and keen to establish themselves in the profession. They are looking for organisations which offer genuine mentorships and a pathway to career progression.

What to expect

You can expect a lot from accounting graduates but they need support. To help graduates meet your expectations, remember that any new graduate will be work ready but will probably lack work experience in a professional role. They need your mentorship, and in a similar manner to an apprentice, an opportunity to experience a variety of interesting and challenging accounting tasks. To develop professional judgement, graduates need to see how experienced accountants apply their judgement and they need to practice by making judgements under guidance. They want to see themselves as an important part of a team and see professional behaviour modelled. An important step for all accounting graduates is the completion of a professional accounting qualification such as that offered by the IPA. Employers need to encourage their accounting graduates to enrol in a professional program and to support them through this process.

Most accounting graduates seek recognition and status above their demands for remuneration. To motivate accounting graduates, employers should put effort into creating a narrative of a unique opportunity, an offer of mentorship and a clear career pathway forward – even if that pathway doesn’t mean the accounting graduate will stay with the firm in the long run.

Recruit one today — Millennial accounting graduates are great!

Dr Christine Contessotto, lecturer – Department of Accounting, Deakin Business School, Deakin University

Phillip Wong, lecturer – Department of Accounting, Deakin Business School, Deakin University