The Jakarta Post
With the year coming to a close, many countries in the Southeast Asian region are busy preparing for the formal establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).
During a visit to Indonesia in November for the Australia Breakfast Dialogue with CPA Australia, however, I encountered a feeling of uneasiness in some quarters as to whether Southeast Asia's largest economy was ready to compete with its neighbors.
From where I stand, the AEC offers opportunities, not just challenges, for Indonesian businesses, especially professional accountants, who will join a bigger market not limited by borders.
The businesses that will reap the benefits are those that meet competition head on, by lifting their skills and knowledge.
For accountants, seeking professional certification would not only support them to do their job well but, more importantly, give them credibility and a competitive edge in AEC markets.
The government of Indonesia is on the right track in addressing the low number of professional accountants. In 2014, the government initiated a strategy to create an additional 100,000 professional accountants over the next few years.
In addition to increasing the number of accountants, the Government blueprint also aims to strengthen accounting regulation, improve the quality of accountants through certification and increase cooperation between the professional accounting association, the regulator and professional accountants.
The Ministerial (Finance) Regulation (PMK) No. 25/PMK.01/2014 on the management of professional accountants also provides the mechanism for registration, certification and even the establishment of a
consulting service to support professional accountants to start their own businesses.
Throughout history, accounting has always been at the core of every successful business, which makes accounting one of the oldest professions in the world.
In 1954, the Accountant Law (UU Akuntan) was ratified in Indonesia, following the country's independence to secure the national treasury.
To satisfy government demand for accountants, the country established the National College of Accounting (STAN) in 1964. Demand for professional accountants then increased in the private sector as Indonesia's economic focus moved to crude oil.
However, even with the increase, the number of professional accountants is still low.
Data from the Finance Ministry's Accountants and Appraisers Supervisory Center (PPAJP) in 2014 reveals that Indonesia is still in need of more professional accountants.
In 2014, the Ministry had recorded less than 16,000 professional accountants. Meanwhile, there are more than 226,000 companies in Indonesia that require accounting services. From this, one can see that many opportunities still exist for Indonesian accountants domestically let alone regionally.
To tap into the opportunities provided by the AEC, let alone the untapped domestic demand, quality education is a key factor in determining whether an accountant is able to compete with their ASEAN counterparts.
It should be a priority of every student interested in accounting to seek education from an excellent university to ensure that they are well prepared and highly skilled.
To face AEC, it is important to lay a foundation with not only local accounting standards but also international standards, combined with real experiences.
Many students from the region, including from Indonesia, have embarked on higher education in Australia to better prepare themselves for the job market.
Aside from receiving quality education in accounting and finance, studying in Australia provides an opportunity to study in English (the official language of ASEAN) and to gain practical experience as many Australian universities provide internship opportunities.
Together, this means that graduates from Australian universities have both the technical knowledge and job-ready skills that makes them highly sought after by major companies.
The results of the 2013 Job Market survey by jobstreet.com revealed that 60 percent of employers felt that new graduates lacked the right attitude and proper communication skills during job interviews.
Many multinational companies, as well as Indonesian companies, have adopted International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), and Indonesia as a country is moving ever closer to full adoption.
Having learnt these standards at university, graduates increase their employability significantly with a wide range of companies.
Career prospects are further boosted by obtaining a professional accounting certification, such as one from IAI or CPA Australia, which also increases their overall competitiveness against professional accountants from other ASEAN member countries.
With the framework already well positioned by Indonesia's Finance Ministry, professional Indonesian accountants have a bright future with a large pool of untapped domestic market potential, and with even bigger regional opportunities ahead.
Indonesia is on the right track in addressing the low number of professional accountants.
The writer is a senior lecturer of accounting, the University of Technology Sydney.
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