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Steering the finance and accounting sector to success

About 20 years ago, Ayanda Mafuleka received a bursary to study for her B.Com degree and today she is the Chief Executive Officer of the institution that funded her studies.

She was recently appointed as the CEO of the Finance and Accounting Services Sector Education and Training Authority (Fasset), which is one of the 21 SETAs that were established in terms of the Skills Development Act to cover all sectors in South Africa, including government.

It has been operational since 2000 and it is mainly responsible for skills development in the finance and accounting services sector.

The SETAs were established to influence the optimum operation of the labour market through effective skills to ensure the appropriate supply of competent labour necessary to compete in the global economy.

The finance and accountancy services sector includes investment entities, trusts and company secretary services; stockbroking and financial markets; financial development organisations; accounting, bookkeeping, auditing and tax services; business and management consulting services; the South African Revenue Service; national and provincial treasuries; and other activities auxiliary to financial intermediation, such as debt collection.

Personal attachment

Now at the helm of Fasset, Mafuleka shared her journey to success with PSM. She said she loves going to work because working for an institution that paid for her university fees is gratifying.

“It is really unbelievable. I am more purpose driven because I have that personal attachment to Fasset. Effectively, I am a qualified chartered accountant (CA) because of Fasset.

“This job is really more of a social project for me. It allows me to give back to society. I want to produce as many young Ayandas as possible, because if it wasn’t for this institution’s bursary initiative I would not be here,” she said.

Part of her responsibilities is to make sure that the SETA realises its vision of facilitating the achievement of world-class finance and accountancy skills in South Africa, as well as to increase the flow of new finance and accountancy entrants to the market.

Mafuleka said one of her goals is to make sure that Fasset improves its overall performance because it has regressed over the years.

“We are determined to achieve this and the board is assisting management to ensure that we achieve our goals and perform well.”

Fasset is also entrusted with developing and growing the skills required in the finance and accountancy sector and facilitating the transformation of the sector.

“The core of our mandate is to develop skills in the finance and accountancy sector. This is also in line with the National Development Plan: Vision 2030, which states that South Africa must produce a skilled workforce,” she explained.

Fasset not only produces CAs but also accounting and finance professionals, as well as auditors across the spectrum.

Focus on black professionals

Having worked as a CA for 16 years, Mafuleka has taken it upon herself to help the country produce as many black CAs, auditors and finance professionals as possible.

“No black child with good grades should be out of university on the basis that they cannot afford fees,” she said.

Mafuleka said Fasset mainly targets students from previously disadvantaged communities, whose parents cannot afford to pay for tertiary education fees and who do not qualify for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

Fasset funds students at universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges.

Mafuleka said that moving forward, more focus will be put on TVET college students and more funding might also be given to IT students. This is in line with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) needs.

She added that Fasset has various funding programmes that cover young people from high school level until they are employed.

The programmes and services offered by Fasset include learner employer grants, Higher Education and Training and National Senior Certificate youth programmes, Fasset bursaries, employer bursary schemes, academic support for professional bodies’ designations and programmes like career awareness and lifelong learning.

“Fasset partners with sector employers, professional bodies and both public and private providers of education and training. Our services respond to the broader South African context where we focus on unemployed youth and previously disadvantaged individuals,” Mafuleka explained.

She said the youth programmes cover learners from high school level, starting from grades eight to 12, and focus on subjects like mathematics to help them perform better and to get ready for tertiary education.

“We also give bursaries to university and college students up to postgraduate level, and after they have graduated, we help them get placed for employment through internships and learnerships.”

Learning programmes

Fasset offers life-long learning programmes such as updates on budgets and tax, presentation skills courses and other short courses.

According to Mafuleka, the finance and accountancy services sector is particularly important because it is the largest employer of people with financial management, accounting and auditing skills.

She believes that the model currently being used by Fasset to get its services to prospective beneficiaries was not that effective because most of its programmes or funds were executed through service providers.

“For example, universities would identify a specific number of students that we can fund and send their details to us,” she said.

She said this model has to be reviewed and there should be a better way of getting funds to beneficiaries.

Added to that, Mafuleka said she sometimes receives emails from students who are unable to further their studies because they do not have money for fees.

To address this challenge, she said she will be starting a new bursary programme called the CEO Programme that will afford about 100 such students per year an opportunity to study through Fasset. This programme will formally start in the next academic year.

In order to increase awareness about the services rendered by Fasset, Mafuleka said it is time to exploit social media to communicate with young people and stakeholders, and she also wants to partner with youth organisations that will help to disseminate information to young people.

She might be a CA by profession, but Mafuleka said she is a philanthropist at heart who also enjoys interacting with young people.

“The first thing I tell them is that if I could do it, they can also do it. I was not the smartest girl in class. I was just a hard-working girl from Umlazi in KwaZulu-Natal so all they need is commitment and hard work,” she said.

“I failed my Certificate in the Theory of Accounting four times before I could pass it, but once you qualify, no one will know how many times you failed unless you tell them. You are at the same level as those who passed their first board exams, and no one can take that qualification from you,” she added.

Success stories

Over the years, Fasset has managed to build strong partnerships with public higher education institutions, not only in funding full bursaries but also in developing programmes and capacity to increase throughput rates.

According to Mafuleka, in the public TVET college space alone, Fasset has managed to place approximately 1 500 students in internships to date and has committed to partner with colleges to increase enrolment rates.

“The TVET colleges have an important role to play in addressing youth unemployment and countrywide skill requirement,” she said.

Historically, Fasset has had great success in securing placements for unemployed graduates. Mafuleka said she is excited to increase efforts in that space during the 2019/20 financial year in response to the President’s YES Programme.

Accounting in the 4IR

She said part of the SETA’s mandate is to research the current skills needs in its specific sector, whilst considering the impact of global and local trends identified from other research sources.

In particular, Fasset has identified a shift towards an increased need for IT skills in the finance and accounting sector, which corresponds with global expectations regarding the impact of the 4IR on professions such as accounting and auditing.

“In essence, the 4IR has gradually affected Fasset’s strategic and operational funding decisions,” she said, explaining that funding will be focused on those areas that will have the greatest impact on unemployed youth, employees and employers in the sector, within the context of the 4IR.

When the time comes for her to give the CEO baton to someone else, Mafuleka would love to be able to look back and say that she steered the SETA from stormy waters to calmer waters, where it is able to perform to its optimum.

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