Job Mobility of Maltese CPAS: Myth or Reality?

Hive of Activity

CPAs are like honey bees. Bees symbolise hard work, creativity, productivity and teamwork; all of which precisely describe the profession of a CPA. Recounting William Shakespeare, “For so work the honey-bees, creatures that by a rule in nature teach the act of order to a peopled kingdom.”

Compared to the traditional professions, the accountancy profession is relatively new but the importance and value of a CPA is continuously increasing. Nowadays, all professionals have become much more mobile, and CPAs are no exception. The majority of CPAs start their career in audit firms, and then move on to the industry. Accounting is far-reaching and varied, and whilst studying, CPAs touch upon numerous subjects and areas of accounting, which are all careers in their own right. These would give them a good horizon, and encourage them to experiment and grasp different fields.

The concept of a lifetime commitment to one particular entity is no longer valid. When contacted, a foremost politician contended that “we are losing the concept of a job for life” and that technological advances and economic instability are two of the many factors that may be driving this process.

When interviewed, Big-Four representatives agreed upon the existence of job mobility amongst CPAs, brought about primarily by the fact that the industry offers CPAs limitless advancement opportunities. Results from a questionnaire which was sent to a sample size of 1,202 Maltese CPAs, achieving a 27% response rate (n=320), established that 63.6% of the respondents who still work as CPAs have been job mobile throughout their career. Moreover, 96.4% of the job mobile participants were mobile in Malta, 23.1% worked in the EU as well, whilst only 15.4% attempted employment in non-EU countries. Besides, 62% of the CPAs who left the profession were job mobile when they were still working in the accountancy profession.

Young CPAs are more inclined to explore and experience new opportunities, as opposed to the elder generation. Moreover, newly qualified CPAs may be also looking around to improve their remuneration package.

Like A Queen Bee

Just like bees single out pollens that are rich in nitrogenous substance, CPAs are likely to migrate to where there is the highest demand, where conditions are optimal, and where they are rated highly.

Whereas in the past there were concerns about overproduction of qualified CPAs, nowadays, not only graduates have no difficulty in finding employment once they qualify, but Maltese audit firms require the engagement of foreign CPAs in order to fill certain gaps when necessary. It was deduced that the need to recruit foreign CPAs as a result of shortages of supply in Malta is largely due to the increased job mobility of the younger generation.

Europe As The Land Of Milk And Honey

Free mobility of EU citizens is a core value of the EU. It is also thought that free labour mobility contributes to a better labour allocation across the EU, and thus assists in countering labour market imbalances. Honey bees are likely to travel up to 6.5km to collect nectar and young CPAs are just as eager to venture into working abroad, especially within Europe, which enables them to acquire diversified job experiences and increased confidence in one’s own ability, aimed at taking up senior positions once they return to Malta. At that point, locally we would end up with more experienced and skilful CPAs, enriching the labour market.

Since Malta’s accession in the EU, there has been an upsurge of Maltese people working in other Member States. The most popular country visited by Maltese CPAs is England, suggesting that the British legacy in Malta still lives on.

Venturing Beyond The Territory

The number of CPAs who decide to work outside the EU is on the increase and the most popular destinations are the U.S., Canada and Australia. This trend is foreseen to step up in the years to come, especially once the international convergence of accounting standards is achieved. Undoubtedly, having international experience opens up broader horizons.

The Determinants That Contribute To Or Limit The Drive Of Job Mobility

Factors That Encourage Job Mobility

Big-Four firms believe that job mobility is existent as a consequence of the accountancy qualification. In addition, the most common reply given by Maltese politicians was that of ‘increased opportunities and job diversification’. Indeed when asked about the main reason behind becoming job mobile, ‘to gain experience’ resulted in being the most popular hit for CPAs (30.3%), followed by ‘no opportunity for career advancement and training opportunities’ (17.9%) and ‘to set up own practice’ (13.3%).

Males and females have contrasting motives behind becoming job mobile. For instance, whereas males are more likely than women to change job due to no opportunity for career advancement and training opportunities, women are more inclined to become mobile due to unsatisfactory working conditions.

The CPA warrant is another important factor that contributes to mobility, because a significant number of individuals change jobs once they obtain the warrant. The skills that CPAs acquire until they achieve their qualification and get warranted are quite widespread, so much so that they put them in a steady position to hop around and exploit opportunities.

Finance Malta deems Malta to be “internationally recognised as a brand denoting excellence in financial services”. Being a financial hub, Malta offers numerous openings and opportunities for CPAs, brought about as well by the growth of funds, insurance, betting and gaming industries. However, CPAs determined that job mobility may also occur due to lack of opportunities for career advancement. Salary is the main contributing factor of overseas job mobility of CPAs. In fact, 28.2% of CPAs who were job mobile but never worked abroad would be heartened to go overseas in case of prospects of better income. This could be because although on the increase, salary ranges in Malta are quite low when compared to other developed nations. Moreover, the younger generations are continually inveigled by high remuneration, which attracts Maltese CPAs like bees to honey. In addition, only 0.9% of CPAs stated that they would go overseas due to better chances of finding employment. This confirms once again that the opportunities in Malta for CPAs abound.

Factors That Hinder Job Mobility

“The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?” – Pablo Casals

Just as bees cannot see red and struggle to recognise it from green leaf backgrounds, barriers to international labour mobility for CPAs may be profuse. These may include work permit issues, cultural differences, lack of available information on working abroad, recognition of qualifications and worse working conditions, amongst others. The loss of direct contact with family or friends is the most prevalent deterrent of overseas job mobility to Maltese CPAs. In the words of Marcus Aurelius, “That which is not good for the bee-hive cannot be good for the bees”, and the fear of disrupting close-family relationships will always be the predominant hesitance of Maltese citizens to go and work abroad. 27.4% believe that their home is Malta; whereas 12% are turned off due to the necessity of adapting to a different culture. Research findings identified that age is one of the most significant determinants of job mobility. Advancing age, coupled with the preference of employers to engage younger CPAs, makes job mobility in the later stages of life much less prevalent.

The Benefits And Ill Effects Of Job Mobility

On The Positive Side

The benefits of job mobility to CPAs are countless. Job mobility broadens minds, allows firms to fill gaps in their workforce, reduces labour shortages in other countries and enriches the quality of the labour force through the experiences undergone and knowledge accumulated.

That labour mobility is beneficial to the accountancy profession is unquestionable. The diversified and rich job experiences imply that further knowledge can be obtained from different work practices. In addition, cross-border job mobility enables individuals to gain first-hand knowledge of highly specialised areas, which they would otherwise never experience in a small country like Malta. Thus, whilst the accountancy profession would be ‘getting broader’, Malta would benefit from improved labour force once they repatriate. One major Maltese politician conveyed that “job mobility can be a positive concept for businesses, as it frees more people with strong skill sets to join job markets and bring new skills and talents to traditional practices”.

Research findings denote a common acceptance amongst all participants that the younger the person, the easier it is for a professional to move between jobs, or else between countries. For a young CPA, working abroad is relatively enticing, especially when the family offers encouragement and support.

The Negative

Apart from the benefits, job mobility has its downside as well, considering that as the Swedish proverb runs, “The bee has a sting but honey too”. Accounting in Malta is largely sought after, and tends to be short of supply. Indeed, long-term large scale outmigration could be a fly in the ointment, as it could undermine human resource potential and further increase this problem, especially at lower levels of staff.

Likewise, increased CPA job mobility may also create a human capital flight and a brain drain for Malta, where talented and motivated CPAs who go and work overseas opt to remain outside Malta. CPAs who opt to remain overseas would not be contributing to the Maltese economy.

However, quoting William Blake, “The busy bee has no time for sorrow” and this issue shall be fought through improved pull factors. This may consist mainly of better remuneration and working conditions and offering promising opportunities for career advancement in Malta. Something must be done, since as the old saying goes, “If a bee stings you once, it’s the bee’s fault. If it stings you twice, it’s your fault.”

Audit and accountancy firms lose talent, knowledge and experience whenever a CPA leaves the firm. In addition, continuous change of staff may hinder the harmony within an office. As a result, such firms make huge efforts to step up employee retention and satisfaction. Showing them respect, giving them ongoing feedback, and recognizing their hard work will surely do the trick.

Designing The Future

Jumping In The Dark

Everyone shall mind their own beeswax, irrespective of others’ career progression. Job mobility involves a mix of feelings and realities, weighing alternatives and making a decision based on how one views his future.

Audit and accountancy firms have become much more aware of their talent and young CPAs are becoming more interested in pursuing a career in such firms, perhaps because over the years, working conditions in these firms improved greatly. Young graduates are still of the opinion that the best way to start their career is by working in an audit firm. Moreover, it is still a case that people leave after they obtain their warrant, because they either feel that they have achieved their maximum within the three years, or as they would be desirous to put to the test something new.

With regards to the future, a former Prime Minister of Malta expressed that “the overall culture, also promoted by private sector employers, discounts the image of lifelong jobs as out of tune with present day realities”.

NO BEES, NO HONEY; NO WORK, NO MONEY

The outlook of the younger generation has changed; it is more open and international, rather than inward looking. People want to experience what is happening out there, and are ready to give it a shot. Whereas bees give chase to nectar-rich flowers, CPAs are moving around to find the best opportunities.

Times have changed and the more opportunities available, the better the working conditions and the greater the job mobility. Firms are bound to compete on offering the best conditions and training opportunities, preeminent quality of work and the highest remunerations.

Whilst the accountancy profession is international, the CPA designation is a brand. IFRSs have gone a long way in giving the profession an international dimension and the convergence programme with the Financial Accounting Standards Board will continue to increase the international flavour of accounting, and it can lead to more mobility.

POLLINATING THE WORLD

Worldwide work experience for CPAs is the bee’s knees. International mobility is a lucrative business opportunity and can lure investment to Malta due to enhanced knowledge and new experiences gained. All Maltese politicians interviewed foresee that cross-border job mobility of Maltese workers will continue to increase in the years to come. At large, the majority of CPAs (76.5%) who took part in this research perceive job mobility to increase in the years to come.

In this day and age, a CPA must be mobile if s/he desires to have the breadth of professionalism required. Above all, Maltese CPAs are of high calibre, and they are highly demanded from abroad due to their top-level standards. As expressed by the writer Arthur Guiterman, “It takes a bee to get the honey out.”

Job opportunities should not be confined to geographical boundaries. CPAs shall be encouraged to look beyond the local boundaries to gain more holistic work experiences. Today’s increased regulation in the financial services industry and ever more specialisation would require gaining top notch experience overseas. Moreover, thanks to the convergence of financial reporting standards, accountancy is on the verge of becoming the first global profession. This would surely leg up professional mobility of CPAs.

Cross-border job mobility is the future, and quoting a former Prime Minister of Malta, “long-term prospects remain positive and optimistic”.

HOME IS WHERE YOUR HONEY IS

Alternating between jobs could hamper continuity, resulting in lack of efficiency and stability. Whilst worker bees return to the hive with their load after visiting between 150 to 1500 flowers, CPAs hop from one opportunity to the next until they become masters in one particular job. This would depend upon the personal characteristics of the individual and the particular opportunities he / she is faced with. At a certain point in life, job stability would enable an individual to specialise in a particular area or industry, and grow up in the career.

Once CPAs achieve their career goal, they should settle down. To a CPA who has advanced to senior management positions, changing jobs would not necessarily lead to significant career advancement. Thus, at this point, CPAs would discern mobility to be more of an unnecessary risky move, rather than an opportunity for career progression.

globe-hive

THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION

Yet, will job mobility increase or decrease in the following years? Job mobility is becoming the trend in all walks of life. Research findings deem job mobility to be on the increase, and there is no evidence that this tendency will decrease. The internationalisation of the profession provides CPAs with global openings, as every CPA in the world would speak the same language.

Just as flowers require bees for pollination, businesses are aware that CPAs have a set of skills which are very useful for their ongoing development. As time goes by, the general public is becoming more conscious of the good qualities and attributes of CPAs, and that will naturally open up broader horizons for CPAs. Gradually, the world is becoming a global village. We are moving towards increased integration, making it easier to travel around. This would surely affect the labour market, where young graduates are grown into thinking within a global mindset, as opposed to a local one.

Maltese culture is changing. In the past, people were more family- oriented, whereas nowadays, people are more curious and disposed to live abroad for the added experience and extra perks. Conforming to the behaviour of bees where they rapidly adapt to change, the younger generation of CPAs is perceived to be more job mobile and ready to take on new challenges.

The increased job mobility could also be an indirect effect of the upsurge in international businesses moving outside their country of residence, pushing for people and resources to become more mobile. Maltese CPAs excel and they are being requested from abroad, where foreigners acknowledge Maltese CPAs to be extremely hardworking and honest. In addition, recovery of international economies will definitely increase job mobility of CPAs, as labour will become a scarce resource.

From an economical point of view, the increase in diversification is triggering infinite local and foreign opportunities for CPAs. In Malta, growth of new markets is expected to continue, increasing the amount of places where professionals can work. Besides, local and foreign politicians are working hard to remove all obstacles that hinder cross- border mobility of workers. Indeed, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “The honey is sweet, but the bee has a sting.”

CONCLUDING NOTE

CPAs shall not be afraid to leave what they know to embark on new experiences. In particular, the younger generation shall be heartened to experience overseas appointments, and this will enable them to gain priceless knowledge, work practices and expose them to new perspectives. As conveyed by Anthony J. D’Angelo, “Don’t fear change, embrace it”.

Dismantling barriers to labour mobility is tomorrow’s main challenge. Those responsible for policy-making should turn this challenge into a successful opportunity. Keeping in mind Elvis Presley’s words; “Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine”.

Although this study has identified that the majority of CPAs agree that labour mobility is beneficial to the accountancy profession, there is still the need for more education and awareness of the benefits that job mobility brings about. Above all, as expressed by Paul Hoffman, “The full potential of labor can be utilized only if there is mobility in labor”.

The accountancy profession has grown tremendously, locally and internationally. There is a general consensus that job mobility should be encouraged, and that CPAs, their families and Malta’s professional reputation benefit greatly from mobility. CPAs shall keep their nose to the grindstone and take advantage of opportunities available. As the saying goes, “Most look up and admire the stars. A champion climbs a mountain and grabs one.”

This phenomenon will continue fertilising the Maltese accountancy profession, imbuing it with the vital international expertise. Working across cultures opens doors to different mentalities and work approaches. Above all, gaining experience in different fields results in increased professionalism. In the words of Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci: “Learning never exhausts the mind.”

 


References

All references used in this article are available upon request at the Department of Accountancy, University of Malta.

TUTOR’S REVIEW NOTE ABOUT THE DISSERTATION BY MR RYAN FINCH, “THE EXTENT OF JOB MOBILITY OF MALTESE CPAS AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE TO THE ACCOUNTANCY PROFESSION”.

Job mobility is a not a very clear-cut concept but a complex phenomenon. The term is used to characterise very different types of transitions in the course of individuals’ working life, involving movements between employers (job-to-job mobility); between occupations and steps on the career ladder (occupational mobility); between different types of contracts; and in and out of employment (employment mobility).

Mr Finch’s dissertation provides some interesting and practical insights about the extent of job mobility of Maltese CPAs. Mr Finch’s study is the first one of its kind to deal with job mobility specifically within the Maltese accountancy profession. Hopefully Mr Finch’s study will drive further research in this area.

Mr Mark Abela, MA (Fin Serv), B. Accty (Hons), CPA, MIA the Malta Institute of Accountants (MIA) Technical Director and a visiting lecturer at the University of Malta.

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