A New Age of Professional Skills Education
Beyond the 40 Hours of CPE and Embracing Continuous and Mindful Learning
The traditional requirement to account for 40 hours of CPE is often viewed as an annual hurdle. This mindset needs to change. This requirement is an opportunity to commit to continuous learning and improvement. In this article, the author identifies the impediments and opportunities to continuous professional and mindful development.
In a world that is rapidly changing, company leaders in every industry are being faced with adapting to the trends that redefine the ways in which we conduct business. While there is no process, procedure, protocol, department, or function that is exempt from requiring transformation and evolution to handle these changes, one area in particular that accounting professionals and their respective industry have struggled with is continuing education. Careers are changing, in that they no longer mean going to school and learning a discipline, and then performing that expertise for 40 years. With careers lasting up to and beyond 60 years, an employeesâ€™ attitude is no longer to simply do the same thing the entire time. We are now in a new age of skills and knowledge, and now is the time for a change. Each year, we all tend to follow the same flow, learning the same old topics in the same old ways, without fail. There is a sudden realization that, to date, we have earned approximately zero hours of CPE with 40 left to go. And while we are aware throughout the year that we should probably get started, it is most often kicked down the road week after week.
The reasoning behind this CPE crunch can be broken down into two main parts. One is because the delivery methods of providing continuing professional education are not on par with trending styles and forms. The second is because the content itself is outdated, with the skills (desired and necessary to be learned) not being taught nor included as major topics. According to a Deloitte study on human capital trends, 70 percent of employees say they lack the skills necessary to adapt to the future. This statistic speaks volumes towards the mentality of the workforce and the need for our industry to move forwardâ€”fast.
During the standard pre-COVID-19 times, earning 40 hours meant getting most of our credit via our firm or societyâ€™s annual tax and audit updates, conferences, or summits, sitting crammed in the nearest hotelâ€™s conference center with one hundred other accountants all in the same boat. It was one of those necessary evils that you just learned to expect as part of the careerâ€”you do not enjoy it, but it gets the job done, so you suck it up. As respondents throughout the world overwhelmingly agree that career learning is an important priority, it becomes clear that this way of continued education needs a shake-up.
When we cram like this, we get caught up in reaching our 40 hours and just making the time go by, that we forget about the entire purpose of continuing professional education: to learn and keep our skills up to date. Instead of following the spirit of CPE to enhance and improve ourselves, we hyper-focus on punching the ticket of the 40 required hours as quickly as possible. Simply put, it is compliance for complianceâ€™s sake. Of all disciplines, accounting principles are probably those that change the least, yet other necessary skills typically have a five-year half-life. It is these skills that must be constantly worked on, especially for those accounting professionals in the industry.
If we were to revisit the delivery methods of the content, along with the actual substance of the content, we could begin to approach our timing to continuing education consumption in a better way.
A Modern Perspective
This December has come and gone, and you, like many, have likely fallen into the same pattern that was described above; however with this new year, there is a chance to take a new approach. There is an opportunity to learn something from the millennials and younger generations, who do not view learning as something they have to do, but rather something they want to do. As the largest demographic in the workforce, this group cannot be ignored. The trends we see in the studies we get our workforce data from, are driven by the millennial generation.
Growing up in the Information Age, they look at learning as something valuable; something they do of their own volition. Hence why Deloitteâ€™s study found that the new rules of careers and learning include constant learning in innovative forms as the underlying principle. They understand that knowledge is power, and desire to know more than just what their day-to-day job entails. When they view a course, webinar, or presentation, if the instruction is poor or the curriculum is a waste of time, you will hear about itâ€”so take this critique seriously.
As the slate of required CPE credits is refreshed for the new year, it is a tremendous opportunity to revisit the goal of CPE and why we need to shift our annual cram sessions into a new diet of steady, worthwhile improvements to our knowledge, skills, and abilities. It is time to get back to the fundamentals of why CPE is required in the first place: to enhance our technical and professional skills, and become perpetually better suited to serve our clients, consumers, and the public.
A Paradigm Shift
The real goal of annual learning requirements in our profession was to ensure that professionals in our ever-changing industry invested a certain amount of time to stay current and sharp. Ironically, while the industry continues to change and evolve, very few accountants change or evolve with itâ€”the way in which CPE is viewed or consumed is one way in which things have remained stagnant, perhaps not helping the cause. Regardless of the history behind how 40 credits were calculated as the requirement, it does not change the way that we should view the goals of it. How can we shift our focus from our December push into something more meaningful, practicalâ€”and sane? Let us start by moving our paradigm to an intention of useful learning in a more productive sequence.
To shift, we must understand the new rules of learning in a better way. The accounting industry and professionals are so engrained with the old rules that they may be tough to view differently, yet this is a necessary habit change. The rules, uncovered from the Deloitte studyâ€™s insights, were uncovered in 2017; however, many are still yet to approach the workforce under this new paradigm. They include the notation that careers need not be linear, but rather can go in any direction. They embody the belief that learning should be based off team needs and individual career goals, rather than corporate leadership set standards. All of this makes sense when you recognize that the future entails longer life spans and thus longer careers, with constantly shifting interests and workforce culture.
Deloitteâ€™s study was titled â€śReal time, all the timeâ€ť for good reason. In a rapidly changing world, periodic updates are no longer serving an efficient and effective purpose. Our world necessitates constant learning, perpetually. We saw a prime example of this in 2020, when the CARES Act created sweeping changes and updates across the financial realm, and the industry was forced to quickly adapt to these new rules, regulations, and factors. In this scenario, we could not afford to wait until December to learn about these changes and new chances to help our clients and organizations.
To remain relevant, being in control of your own learning experience is of the utmost importance. We each have our own learning aspirations and approaches, and leaders would be keen to realize that they must utilize technology and modern education methods, such as group learning, micro-learning, and technology-based experiences. Learning, like careers, must be dictated by the individual, rather than by the manager.
For those struggling to apply a personalized learning experience, what makes the most sense is to carve out a little bit of time each week to devote towards learning and knowledge. For some, this means digesting a small amount of something each day, be that an article, podcast, video, or webinar. Others prefer to consume in batches, spending a couple hours over the weekend to consume new concepts and knowledge they saw popping up on their dashboards during the week. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to your preferred pedagogy. It is about what works for youâ€”and making it a habit. It is easy to fall back into the procrastination attitude, so dedicating to a routine that is realistic for you is critical.
Professional Skills Focus
Combined with the need to shift when we learn, we face our need to change what we learn. We need to move past purely technical skills and embrace the learning of soft skills, or more appropriately, professional skills.
Our industry, along with changes throughout all industries around the world, is pushing us to become more proactive and to take on a more advisory-level roleâ€”even early in our careers. This should be what makes us increasingly thirsty for soft skills, yet so many professionals overlook these. Skills like leadership, communication, motivation, strategic planning, and collaborationâ€”there is no shortage of demand for accounting professionals who can demonstrate technical knowledge along with interpersonal grace and fluency.
Everyone refines their technical skills during the early years of their career, but eventually there becomes a plateau of minimal improvementâ€”one can only complete a workpaper so fast, and with automation, data input at the personal level is becoming a thing of the past. Think of your shift from learning only technical skills, into acquiring professional skills, to be like when you first start in a new function. In getting your valuation credentials, opening up the textbook for the first time felt like the entire world was in front of you, but now you have become an expert in your field, along with so many othersâ€”soon enough, the difficult and daunting task of learning is behind you. Like all new subject matter, as you grow your understanding of the fundamentals, continued learning becomes easier. The same applies to any professional skill you can think of as well. There is no skill that you cannot learn or improve if you put your mind to it.
As we do our 2020 wrap up, and we move with full force into 2021, let us accept and acknowledge that it is time to change how we learn and make this past Decemberâ€™s cram session our last oneâ€”ever. Shift into constant learningâ€”treating yourself to higher quality CPE and a steadier pace by day or by week. Given the rapid pace of change, why not kill two birds with one stone: gaining the new knowledge and skills you need to serve your clients, while earning those 40 hours learning topics that really matter.
Most importantly, if you want to stay relevant and forward-looking, it is time to tack on those soft professional skills and become the indispensable resource your organization so badly needs. Â
Garrett Wagner, CPA, CITP, CEO and Founder of C3 Evolution Group, is an industry thought leader and is on a mission to fuel the entrepreneurial spirit and passion within the industry. With his ability to break free from the traditional CPA box, he has embraced the entrepreneurial mindset and is on a mission to help others embrace the entrepreneurial skills and knowledge needed to evolve into entrepreneurial CPAs. Mr. Wagner focuses on monitoring the evolving technologies and best practices in the industry to achieve the highest degree of success without being afraid to break free from traditional methods. His background includes working inside successful CPA firms, speaking at conferences and events, and consulting for CPA firms across the country helping them to ignite lasting change by understanding the unique needs of each firmâ€™s organization.
Mr. Wagner can be contacted at (585) 385-1790 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.