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William Setterlund, president and director of the Accounting Academy, puts you on the road to becoming an accounting professional.

First, please give me some information about your background.

I’ve been in accounting for my entire career. I’ve been a CPA since 1970 and have done just about everything you can imagine. I’ve worked for for-profits and non-profits, large companies and small companies, and I had my own CPA firm for many years.

Tell me about the Accounting Academy and why you started it.

Instead of retiring, which normal people do, I started doing part-time consulting for different businesses. I was trying to hire good, trained people to do basic accounting so I could leave the consulting job and feel confident that the people I hired were capable of keeping it going. But I was really frustrated in trying to find fully trained people. For instance, I would find someone who was pretty good at accounts payable because they’d done that for a long time, but I wasn’t able to move them around. They didn’t know how to do payroll or journal entries or bank reconciliations. They were very limited, and I was looking for someone to do everything. Most people weren’t trained in all aspects of bookkeeping and accounting. So I basically ended up training them. That’s when I decided there’s a need for a vocational school that teaches these basic skills.

Colleges are training people to come out at a high level – chief financial officer, or to become a CPA. They’re not worried about the nitty-gritty, day-to-day work that has to be done. Colleges don’t offer a course in how to do payroll. They don’t teach students how to do QuickBooks or how to actually do books. Kids coming out of college, they’ve never worked with a set of books before.

That’s where our little career school fits in. It’s very entry-level, staff-level. Colleges are preparing people for management level, but you still need worker-bees. You need people who can do payroll and accounts payable, receivables and billing, and that kind of thing.

I started developing the curriculum back in the 2000s. In 2005, I applied for the state license, and that took about a year.

Can you tell me more about the curriculum?

It’s very hands-on. We relate it to cooking. You can read all the cookbooks in the world, but if you don’t get in the kitchen and start working with the pots and pans and start cooking and getting dirty, you’ll stumble on the very first thing.

By the time our students are finished with the program, they’ve done almost 20 complete sets of books for different types of businesses. We’re really geared to sole proprietors, very small businesses as opposed to the colleges that are concentrating on the big corporations. It’s very simple. The practice includes the books of an attorney, a bakery, a furniture store, a dog kennel, a surf shop, those kinds of businesses.

What kind of time commitment does this require?

It’s a six-month program. It’s 400 hours. We go four hours a day, four hours a week. All the work’s done in class.

In the end, your students graduate with what kinds of degrees or certificates?

It’s a certificate program, not a degree program. It’s not a license of any kind. The only license you can get in accounting is a CPA license, and in order to get that, it’s quite a challenge. You have to have a four-year degree with a major in accounting before you can even sit for the exam. And the CPA exam is equivalent to the Bar exam for attorneys. It’s two and a half days, and it’s very tough. I think the failure rate is 50%.

In our program, it’s a certificate in small business accounting and bookkeeping.

What kind of jobs can they land with that certificate?

Basically, entry-level. You’re starting at the bottom, positions like accounts payable clerk, accounts receivable clerk, payroll clerk, junior accountant, bookkeeper. The beautiful thing is, you’re not limited to one industry. In accounting, every business, by law, has to keep books. It opens a lot of doors.

Some of our students are also starting their own bookkeeping businesses. Once they get the training, they know QuickBooks inside and out. We spend two months on it. So they have the training and the confidence to do books.

Starting salaries are probably $14 to $16 an hour right now.

What’s the financial commitment for your program, and is there assistance available?

It’s $7400, plus a $75 registration fee. We offer our own in-house financing, which is interest-free, with ten percent down. Our number one assistance program is through the San Diego Career Centers, through EDD. Through them, people who are unemployed can go to the career centers, and get qualified, and they might be able to get up to $5000 toward their training. We’re also approved through the GI Bill. Workman’s comp pays for retraining for injured employees.

What kind of person do you think is best suited for this kind of work?

Someone with above average intelligence who likes working with numbers, and who likes to be organized and solve problems. Someone focused who enjoys a challenge.

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