The accounting world is an oyster for anyone looking at any of its exciting career paths. The Accounting Technician South Africa [AT(SA)] qualification — administered by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) via accredited training providers — has proven to be essential in accounting circles and has had a profound effect on the lives and careers of numerous financial sector professionals. Shirley Mahlangu is one of those success stories.
Mahlangu grew up in Soshanguve, Pretoria, where she lived with her parents and younger brother. She describes her upbringing as happy until life happened. “My mother’s health started to deteriorate,” she says. This required Mahlangu to step into her ill mother’s shoes and raise her siblings.
When the strain became too much for the young girl to handle, the family moved into their grandmother’s home. She says her grandmother was a source of inspiration and inspired her to have hope, work hard and not give up on life, no matter how testing it becomes.
After matriculating, Mahlangu enrolled to study accounting at Tshwane University of Technology, a passion she says was discovered during her early high school years. Tragedy struck shortly after, when her grandmother also fell ill and passed on.
The resulting financial difficulties affected her ability to finish her course and graduate. This is when she became aware of the AT(SA) qualification: a programme designed to take accounting professionals from a foundational phase to an advanced level of accounting knowledge, skills and competencies. And so she entered the programme.
Harriet Amoda, Project Director at AT(SA), adds that the need to adequately support and upskill the country’s youth resulted in BANKSETA partnering with AT(SA) to avail learning opportunities such as the one Mahlangu joined. “This involved the implementation of innovative training programmes that offered technical accounting qualifications as well as soft interpersonal skills and psychosocial support to over 280 learner beneficiaries of this programme.”
She adds that the programme funding further allowed for an intensive capacity building initiative, where seven universities (four universities of technology and three comprehensive universities) were accredited by AT(SA) to offer the AT(SA) qualification.
Over and above the accounting skills she acquired, Mahlangu says the programme showed her how to manage time, how to manage projects as well as teaching her about ethics, integrity and passed on skills to become an exceptional finance professional. But what was most valuable to Mahlangu was that the curriculum also offered entrepreneurial classes. This not only widened her skills set as a prospective accounting technician, but sparked her desire to start her own company upon completing the AT(SA) qualification.
And so Mahlangu founded SMC Accounting Solutions, which specialises in bookkeeping and payroll services, focused on both start-ups and small enterprises. “Our vision is to build a strong brand that’s synonymous with service excellence, professional competence and ethical business practices. We aspire to move beyond the small company model and to expand our services to big businesses, and to be a registered provider of training to newly qualified accounting technicians, to groom them into exceptional professionals for the workplace,” says Mahlangu.
“Being an AT(SA) offers lifelong learning and professional development opportunities. You never stop learning, and best of all is that you get cherry-picked for work due it being a credible designation. This has opened opportunities for my establishment to work with various other establishments of high stature,” continues the company owner.
Indeed Mahlangu is so appreciative of her journey and the skills acquired through the learnership that she has committed herself to give back to her community through small business support, and she now offers tax and financial advice for free. She also continues to impart her accounting skills to high school students through tutoring sessions, just as she did in high school.
She is proudest of her achievements as a qualified AT(SA) and how her skills have benefitted many small businesses that would have likely failed due to a lack of financial management skills. “I’m happier, because those who I have helped continue the chain and mentor other small businesses,” says Mahlangu.
What about challenges experienced throughout her career?
“I had a problem expressing myself. I used to come across as shy or timid, and got rejected a lot for it, but AT(SA) helped me by turning me into an ambassador of a finance institute during my formative years, where my tasks included having conversations with entrepreneurs. This improved my presentation skills and as everyone knows, running a company also means you have to negotiate on a daily basis. AT(SA) helped a lot with giving me the confidence to express my abilities as an accounting professional,” explains Mahlangu.
“It is truly humbling for us at AT(SA) to see the result of our partnership with critical funder like BANKSETA, producing such quality candidates who have ensured that they have taken full advantage of the opportunities presented by the programme. Mahlangu rightly indicates that her timid nature caused us some reticence in accepting her for the programme. We are delighted by the immense growth and confidence displayed by her, and we wish her every success in her business venture,” Amoda adds.
When asked what she would do differently if the chance presented itself, Mahlangu says that she would want her mother to be healthy, and her grandmother to be alive. “I’d also graduate earlier, but having gone through it all, I wouldn’t change a thing. I believe that I had to go through my life experiences to reach this point,” added Mahlangu.
For more information on the AT(SA) qualification see the following chart: