LIKE SMALL ARMIES, the Big Four accountancy firms are mounting an unprecedented invasion into China from their Hong Kong headquarters as the mainland opens its doors to the world. Just as the world's corporations are converging on the mainland, China's giant enterprises - including the entire banking industry - require drastic re-engineering as they seek overseas listings and foreign capital to compete on the world stage. The Big Four are helping emerging mainland enterprises to access the capital they need to expand into the global marketplace. But with this windfall in business comes a daunting new challenge - attracting talent and training this new army of accountants. The accountancy boom has prompted industrial-scale hiring. This year alone, one of the prominent Big Four firms, Ernst & Young, has already recruited more than 600 graduates along with another 200 experienced accountants. It plans to take on another 1,000 newcomers before Christmas, bringing total staff to about 5,000 by the end of the year. The accountants needed on the largest mainland projects can number up to 300 on a single campaign, working together for many weeks across several cities, said Gerry Redmond, Ernst & Young's partner responsible for learning and development. Since almost all accountancy solutions involved teamwork, he said, the projects were extremely complicated and success involved more than technical knowledge. 'Team dynamics, interpersonal relationships, communication, organisational skills and team-building are all keys,' he said. But the team dynamics are in a constant state of flux. Some staff work on many teams a year. On top of that, they have to adjust to the languages and cultures of client companies. 'It's amazing everyone understands each other so well,' said Mr Redmond. Like every successful army, world-class training is crucial. The firm meets this challenge locally with the Ernst & Young Learning & Development Centre, occupying 7,000 sqft of Hutchison House in Central, which runs 600 programmes a year - 250 in Hong Kong and 350 on the mainland. It has a full-time training staff of 25. Additionally, Ernst & Young's global Web-based learning platform contains training programmes covering everything from tax and accounting standards to legal issues and industry overviews. 'We basically build a learning map for every member of staff every year, using all learning tools from Web-based tools to classroom teaching,' he said. An additional challenge affecting the entire accountancy industry is ensuring employees keep updated on the latest statutory requirements and rules. 'As the business world changes, auditing and accounting standards change, and we all have to change too,' he said. 'Markets are changing so fast. Just look at your local bank - it is a lot different now than five years ago and will probably be a lot different five years from now.' Responding to this constantly changing environment, every member of staff - from the most senior partner down - must complete 40 hours of continuous professional development a year. 'Even top management need to be familiar with the key changes of rules and regulations,' he said. 'They are ultimately the ones who have to sign off the project. If they don't know the rules, how can they appreciate and evaluate the business risks?' Beyond the classroom, more experienced professionals are expected to keep a constant eye on the ranks below them - offering a constant stream of advice as careers progress from team member to team leader, manager and ultimately the opportunity to join the ranks of about 100 partners. 'Our people are on a continuous development journey and the consultative culture starts from day one,' Mr Redmond said. 'We expect them to take charge of their careers, have ambition and pursue goals. Our business is affected by many regulatory changes and environments, so our people must live the philosophy of lifelong learning. 'But that is the reality of every industry in today's world. You can't say you have finished with studying when you start work, as if that is the end. That is just the start. If you say you have finished learning, you're already a dinosaur and we know what happened to them. To survive, we must be able to renew our knowledge and even reinvent ourselves.' At a glance Training period Three years to qualify, continuous training and development during career. Number of people 1,000 more staff before Christmas. Requirements University graduate, excellent communication and organisational skills, English and Chinese. Starting salary Competitive industry starting rate, $10,000-$10,500. Bonuses Annual bonus varies according to grade.