Natalie Zimmelman, General manager AAT(SA): Plugging the skills gap

“We have identified a skills gap and we believe we can plug it,” says Natalie Zimmelman, general manager at AAT(SA), the Association of Accounting Technicians, South Africa, which operates from the offices of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA). AAT(SA) was formed in October 2008 after SAICA and the international professional body, AAT, realized their collaboration should stand on its own feet.

Zimmelman and her colleagues Wandile Yengwa (Development Manager) and Yuven Gounden (Communications) recently met CFO South Africa to elaborate on the role that AAT(SA) plays and aims to play in the country. AAT(SA) began facilitating training for employees of municipalities, but has now also started programs for other public sector workers. The private sector has been on Zimmelman's agenda, but is gaining focus. "We have two messages for CFOs," she says. "Almost all companies are complaining about the competency levels in their finance team, so train your existing staff and hire technically trained people. The training we provide is business driven. Our courses are not put together by education specialists who sit with their backs to the business world."

Zimmelman says vocational training in South Africa, mostly provided at Further Education and Training (FET) Colleges has traditionally been, for the most part, "unbelievably poor". SAICA has recently put a CFO in all fifty FET Colleges to support the efforts of the Department of Higher Education and Training's efforts in these colleges and to assist to get the business processes in order. AAT(SA) received funding from the Banking Sector Education and Training Authority (BANKSETA) to capacitate eight FET colleges. "Our country will fail if vocational training doesn't take off," says Zimmelman. She says it is crucial that young South Africans acquire skills through technical training. "Otherwise the only options are university or unemployment."

The lack of vocational training and the lack of a culture that appreciates technical skills are also affecting the private sector, says Zimmelman." CFOs are trying to recruit, but they can't. They are mostly recruiting people with degrees to become creditor clerks. CFOs themselves are sometimes doing the bank reconciliations, because they don't trust their own people to do it. CFOs are over-utilized and are failing to do their strategic job as a result. Our answer is: train your staff." AAT(SA) has developed very modern learnership programs designed to do exactly that and has accredited various organisations to facilitate these programs. "Most training providers do this in house - in the company, some do public lectures, others do distance learning."

It takes the private sector very long to acknowledge that technical training is the way forward, which sometimes frustrates Zimmelman. "Right now we are knocking on doors, but it goes slowly," she says. "We have been talking for two years to one of the large auditing firms and they have started now, but just with 12 people." In an earlier interview with CFO South Africa ("vocational training crucial for number crunchers") the enthusiastic Zimmelman sheds more light on AAT(SA)'s mission to train South Africa's finance professionals. It can be read here.

If you also would like to share your ideas with the CFO community, you want to be part of the leading CFO South Africa Community or you want to know more about hosting a CFO South Africa event, you are most welcome to get in touch with CFO SA. Please contact Jurriën Morsch at [email protected]

Stay connected, up to date and in the loop on what is happening in the world of finance by becoming a member to receive our newsletter and following us on Twitter. Also to keep track of newly published interviews with CFOs and CEOs.