YOUNG Singaporeans are spoilt for choice when it comes to career options, so the accountancy profession needs to work harder to attract more talent and keep training those already in the profession, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
One option is to make the job more accessible to people of different educational backgrounds, he added.
Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister, told the Singapore Accountancy Convention yesterday that most accountants here got their jobs by taking up a degree or diploma in accountancy.
"There are strengths in this model, but it would be well complemented by taking in those trained in other disciplines," he added.
With a tight labour market all around, the accountancy sector cannot plan to significantly expand the pipeline of students pursuing accountancy training or to boost the profession's share of the local talent pool.
"Instead, we should focus on broadening the pathways into the profession, including allowing for less conventional routes of entry," said Mr Tharman.
"And most importantly, we must make up for large numbers by instead developing higher levels of expertise and deeper specialist capabilities, through continual investment in skills over the course of a career."
There are already moves in this direction, he noted. The Singapore Qualification Programme, which trains aspiring accountants, was introduced last month and is open to people without prior accountancy training.
It has received 300 applications from aspiring accountants - 30 from non-accountancy backgrounds.
The programme will also help raise standards of the sector, said Dr Ernest Kan, president of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants, formerly known as the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore.
"This qualification will eventually be internationally recognised. By 2020 we would like to see Singapore as a global accountancy hub," he added.
Mr Max Loh, Ernst & Young's managing partner of Singapore and Asean, added that such steps are important as the demands on accountants continue to rise.
"Beyond the traditional role of a 'bean counter', accounting professionals are contributing to the corporate agenda in the areas of strategy, finance and capital funding," he noted.
"Those with specialised expertise also have much to offer in advising on performance improvement, risk management and governance."
These are not new roles but they have been brought more to the fore in recent years as the global business environment has become more complex, he said.
The annual Singapore Accountancy Convention, held at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre, brings together accountancy experts from around the world to discuss key issues related to the industry.
The three-day event ends today.