Bahrain: Training Vocational Accountants in the Middle East
Global Development Manager,
Association of Accounting Technicians
Justin Kyriakou is Global Development Manager at AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians), the UK’s leading qualification and membership body for vocational accountants, working across the globe with around 135,000 members in more than 90 countries.
The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) has been operating in the Middle East for over twenty years, training students in the region in practical financial skills that can be used in real-world work. AAT builds relationships with local organizations, combining knowledge and expertise to develop local financial intelligence.
AAT’s Accounting Qualification combines the latest industry insight with practical work skills to help prepare students for careers in accounting or other finance-based roles. It is comprised of three different levels, making it accessible even for individuals with no previous financial background. The qualifications can also be studied flexibly, meaning individuals can study when it suits them, in the evenings or on weekends. Currently, AAT works with six organizations, known as training providers, in Bahrain and one in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates to provide the Accounting Qualification. AAT also has plans to expand its operations further by moving into Dubai, UAE, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. One of AAT’s strongest connections at the moment is with Bahrain, where the organization has been active for a number of years. Although it was one of the first states to discover oil, Bahrain is less dependent on it than other the Gulf countries, balancing it with a thriving banking and financial services sector. Bahrain is a global hub for Islamic finance, with the Central Bank of Bahrain supporting this sector. In 2001, Bahrain became the first country in the world to develop and implement regulations specific to the Islamic banking industry. Tourism is another industry that has grown in Bahrain, with large amounts of visitors from the Gulf region, but also increasing visitors from outside of the region as well. These different sectors have combined to help strengthen the Bahraini economy. Mr. Abdulla Marzooq, Managing Director of the training company, Score Training, one of the training companies AAT works with says:
Bahrain’s economy is improving year by year, with real gross domestic product (GDP) moving from 3.4 percent in 2013 to 5.4 percent in 2014. Draft reports for this year indicate that it is still stable at that level. There has also been a rise in tourist numbers, which will lead to improvements of hotels and other leisure facilities – further fuelling Bahrain’s economy and performance.
As part of its diversification from being an economy reliant solely on income from oil production, the government of Bahrain has made it a priority to provide support to train the local population and equip them with practical skills required in the workplace. The government is particularly keen to offer qualifications that are United Kingdom regulated, but also recognized globally, and which also provide progression opportunities toward chartered accountancy qualifications and university. In addition, these finance skills are extremely valuable for growing businesses. In this context, the government funds students in the country who want to study for an AAT qualification, paying the costs for their course. AAT is also widely used in the Bahraini public sector. The Bahrain Central Bank owns the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance, which is a training organization AAT works closely with to offer Accounting Qualification. Bahrain also established an organization called Tamkeen in August 2006 to assist with the government’s economic vision. Its two primary objectives are to:
· Foster the creation and development of enterprises; and
· Provide support to enhance the productivity and growth of enterprises and individuals.
Tamkeen is roughly equivalent to the United Kingdom’s Skills Funding Agency, and is an avenue through which individuals can obtain financial support to study professional qualifications to advance in their careers. AAT’s Accounting Qualification is among those Tamkeen make available. Indeed, it is the most popular certificate they offer.
As Mr. Abdulla Marzooq noted:
As Bahrain has a dynamic economy and an open, competitive market, there are many opportunities for AAT-qualified students. In the past 3 years, many qualified personnel have gone into a range of sectors, from information technology (IT) and distribution to education and auditing, thanks largely to the government’s Tamkeen human-capital scheme to sponsor training for Bahrainis and help prepare them for the labor market.
I think Bahrain’s economic and financial landscape will be stable over the next decade, provided that government spending on capital projects and private sector subsidies is maintained at the current level. As the investment hits home, I foresee that certain business types will take off, such as training institutes, private universities and software houses.
Given our dynamic, globalized economy, accountants planning to work here should definitely have world recognized professional qualifications, such as the AAT, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Certified Public Accountant (CPA), as there is such a high demand for qualified staff.
Batool Mohammed was 21 years old when she began studying AAT. She was encouraged to study for the qualification, as she was working in a job doing the accounts at a company which rented out party equipment. She studied for the qualification part-time in the afternoons after work. Since completing it, she has received a pay rise and now has an additional job as an AAT Assessor, assessing the work of other students who study for the qualification. She is also planning to use the knowledge she gained from studying the AAT qualification to progress to a Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) qualification.
She noted that: “Obtaining the AAT qualification helped change my career in many ways. It’s helped me change my position, increase my salary, build my self-confidence, and has given me my new role as an assessor.”
AAT is pleased to support the development of financial skills and knowledge in the Middle East, working with employers to ensure they get the highly qualified staff they need and with individuals looking for a qualification to help them succeed in their careers. With its plans to expand into Dubai, UAE, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, AAT looks forward to helping the region continue its financial growth.