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Graduates get practical 'welcome to real world'

Published on Friday, 29 Jan 2010
Agnes Chan says the company has a training map for staff to keep learning.

There may be no banner above the door saying as much, but graduates joining Ernst & Young should expect a "welcome to the real world". That is a light-hearted description used by the Big Four accounting firm for the 14-day programme new recruits go through as a crucial first step.

It introduces the basics of audit, tax advisory work and mergers and acquisitions, so that trainees have a clear understanding of the fundamentals of the profession and their own role and future responsibilities.

"We make a big investment in training and provide the right experience for staff at different stages of their career," says Agnes Chan, FCPA (Aust), Ernst & Young's regional managing partner for Hong Kong and Macau. "We have developed a training map for all our people. It sets out things to learn each year to steadily fill in what different individuals need and enhance their careers."

She explains that, initially, the focus is on core technical courses required to complete professional qualifications. However, the firm also gives plenty of attention to teaching soft skills, which are essential in a sector so dependent on building and maintaining good relationships with clients.

These sessions include coaching on how to "go to market". The topic covers such things as the firm's methodology, its corporate strategy, and the types of priority accounts and core clients it deals with. Equipped with this knowledge, staff are better able to identify opportunities with clients and make business-related decisions.

"They will know the terms we use and what, such as any request to do an OCA [office of chairman's accounts], warrants our priority attention," Chan says. "Ethics is also very important. I emphasise it in our career talks at universities and it is in our value statement. We build relationships based on doing the right thing."

She adds that, this year, the firm intends to recruit 1,000 or so graduates on the mainland. Of these, about 170 will join in Hong Kong, though there will also be openings at various levels for experienced hires.

The financial crisis means more students are now looking to qualify as accountants, partly for reasons of job security. As a result, there is a significantly bigger pool of graduates to select from and the number of applications was up. For practical reasons, Ernst & Young plans to focus this year on candidates with accounting and finance-related degrees. There will be places, though, for a small percentage of applicants from other disciplines.

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