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Accounting Education: an international journal
Vol. 20, No. 3, 275 – 294, June 2011

‘A distinguishing factor’: Oral
Communication Skills in New
Accountancy Graduates


Massey University, New Zealand

Received: August 2009
Revised: January 2011; May 2010; January 2011
Accepted: January 2011
Published online: March 2011

ABSTRACT This study into the perceived importance of oral communication skills in accountancy included the collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data from a national survey of New Zealand accountants, followed by a series of semi-structured interviews. Survey and interview data reveal agreement with existing literature: New Zealand accountancy employers find all oral communication skills somewhat important and a number of specific skills extremely important, but employers also report seldom finding the required level of oral communication proficiency in new university graduates. The study produced an inventory of 27 individual oral communication skills that will be useful to similar investigations in different national contexts. Additionally, the findings of this study may be useful to curricular development both in the New Zealand and international contexts.

KEY WORDS: Oral communication, workplace communication, listening, presentation skills, telephone skills


Academics and practitioners do not always concur but, in the case of communication skills in accountancy graduates, these two sets of stakeholders are in firm agreement: both written and oral communication skills are extremely important in the accountancy work- place (Albin and Crockett, 1991; Albrecht and Sack, 2000; Borzi and Mills, 2001; Hock, 1994; Johnson and Johnson, 1995; LaFrancois, 1992; McDonald, 2007; Morgan, 1997). This agreement extends across international boundaries, as a number of studies around the globe have reported the high value placed on communication skills, for example in the UK (Morgan, 1997), USA (Smythe and Nikolai, 2002), and Australia (Tempone and Martin, 2003). In New Zealand, the site of the present study, academic studies into

Correspondence Address: F. Elizabeth Gray, Department of Communication, Journalism, and Marketing, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand. Email: f.e.gray@massey.ac.nz

0963-9284 Print/1468-4489 Online/11/030275 – 20 # 2011 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/09639284.2011.560763
276F. E. Gray and N. Murray

the importance of communication skills in accountancy and the challenges of teaching those skills (Gardner, Milne, Stringer and Whiting, 2005; McLaren, 1990) have multiple corollaries in the workforce. Accountancy job advertisements regularly request both oral and written communication skills; competency in oral communication is emphasised on the website of the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants (NZICA); and oral communication is an explicit component of the assessment structure of the PCE2 examination, which concludes the second (and final) stage of training towards becoming a Chartered Accountant in New Zealand. However, both formal studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that new accountancy graduates often do not possess communication skills sufficient to meet the demands of the workplace, particularly in the area of oral communication (Adler and Milne, 1994; Courtis and Zaid, 2002; Gray, 2010; McLaren, 1990; Zaid and Abraham, 1994).

Students in New Zealand may graduate with a university degree in accountancy after three years of full-time study. (Accountancy may also be studied in less rigorous programs at polytechnics and institutes of technology.) The intensity of the university programs of study, which are accredited by NZICA, means students have a challenging workload of technical study and very limited opportunity to take elective or ‘liberal’ courses. Of course, limited...
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