A growing number of graduates and mid-career switchers are opting to become qualified accountants to meet the demand from accounting firms and corporations for business advisers and auditors. 'In the past few years we have seen a growing number of people signing up for our qualification programme, as the demand for accountants is high and the prospect has never been better,' said Jonathan Ng Tai-sing, director of student education and training at the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA). 'The main thrust of enrolment is still coming from graduates, but there have also been career switchers.' Launched in 1999, the HKICPA's qualification programme has been tailor-made to provide comprehensive practical skills and knowledge training to those with accountancy degrees or who have undergone accountancy degree conversion courses. This is Hong Kong's own benchmark qualification to becoming a certified public accountant and has gained international recognition with many other countries over the years. Split into four modules, the structured course covers financial reporting, financial management, auditing and information management, and taxation. Each module requires candidates to attend four workshops that are interactive and designed to give students the opportunity to strengthen their analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as presentation and communications skills. On completion of the four modules, candidates will sit a final six-hour examination in which they have to demonstrate what they have learnt by answering case studies. 'The aim is to teach students how they can provide integrated solutions to their clients with the objective of making them well-rounded,' Mr Ng said. Qualifying to become an accountant hinges on passing the final examination and completing a minimum of three years of practical experience under the watch of an authorised supervisor, who must at least have three years' membership with HKICPA or with another accountancy body accepted by the institute. Meanwhile, the rapidly changing business environment has created ample challenges that HKICPA is working to address. 'It is tough and accountants need to keep themselves at the forefront of these changes,' said Gary Wong Ho-yuen, HKICPA's director of member services. Members are required by the institute to complete at least 20 hours of professional training if they are to maintain their membership status. With about 25 per cent of its members in public accountancy practice and the remaining pool in the business sector, HKICPA offers a plethora of courses to ensure relevance across the board. Topics covered include financial reporting, auditing standards as well as ethics, negotiation, management and language skills.