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Expand Your Definition of Professional Development

Jill Gaynor
Posted by Jill Gaynor on Dec 28, 2022 9:22:18 AM

Ongoing self-education is fundamental to accounting and bookkeeping firms as employees make their annual trek through new tax codes and other financial regulations, and CPAs earn needed CPE credits. But as an employer operating in a world of work that’s quickly redefining itself, don’t make the mistake of confusing this requisite form of education with employee learning and development. 

The difference is subtle but important. Professional development advances the employee’s career in a way that’s aligned with their current employer’s business priorities. A more career-focused definition of professional development is about employees learning and improving their skills so they can perform their current job better and progress to better jobs. 

While keeping your employees’ accounting skills sharp is important to both them and you, today’s employees—particularly the new entrants to the profession—are looking for more in terms of their development. Adding a broader set of learning and development perks to your employee benefits offering is a relatively inexpensive way to give current and prospective employees what they want while simultaneously improving your firm’s productivity and culture. 

Attract and retain high-performing employees 

A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says the number of employees who felt professional development benefits were important to offer grew to 65 percent in 2022.  Among younger workers, demand for more skills training benefits is even more pronounced: A 2021 Gallup survey showed that 66% of workers ages 18-24 ranked learning new skills third, behind only health insurance and disability benefits, when they evaluate a new job.  

One result of the pandemic is that it forced employees of all generations to take stock in what really matters in the workplace. Personal growth and more meaningful work moved to the forefront, and employers who make learning and development not only part of their benefits program, but part of their culture, will win over and keep employees who value skill and knowledge growth. 

These knowledge-driven employees will be the ones you want to attract and keep. According to HR consulting firm Insperity, “the job candidate who demonstrates a growth mindset tends to be the one looking to learn new skills and sharpen existing ones.” 

Create a better and more productive work environment 

Making learning and development part of your perks and culture pays off for you too. Consider some of the potential benefits to your firm: 

  • Improves employee engagement—engaged employees have less absenteeism, more productivity, and demonstrate more innovation. 
  • Helps you stay competitive—upskilling your current employees is critical to keeping up with the pace of change in the industry. 
  • Builds a pipeline of leaders who already know your business and helps with succession planning. 
  • Encourages innovation and helps you find untapped talent in your firm. 
  • Adds credibility to your workforce that, in turn, boosts your reputation and helps you win clients.  

Ways you can invest in employee development 

If you’re thinking about offering more employee development opportunities, start by talking to or surveying your employees about what they want. Their answers will vary according to their roles and where they are in their career. That’s why you’ll need to create a flexible program that works for employees at all career stages.  

According to SHRM, “a successful learning and development program shouldn’t be solely about the company’s needs.” Allowing employees to develop skills that aren’t directly related to their current job shows that you’re interested in their personal growth as much as their productivity. 

Here are some suggestions for adding more employee development tactics and creating a learning-based culture. 

  • Create employee development plans to help them identify skill gaps and identify future learning opportunities. 
  • Consider CPA study materials reimbursement and mentorship—helping employees with these costs and having someone guide them through scheduling and studying can ease the stress of taking the exam itself and shows your commitment to professional growth in the field. 
  • Invest in automation that can take care of simple, repetitive tasks and free up employees’ time to develop their skills in more purposeful work. 
  • Consider a job rotation program to help employees learn other roles and improve their general business skills. 
  • Emphasize mentorship—younger accountants and auditors can sharpen their finance skills from more seasoned colleagues, and more exposure to millennials and Gen Z can help senior-level employees learn to relate to these generations of clients. 
  • Encourage participation in learning-based events—if in-person events aren’t practical for your firm, point your employees toward the many virtual events available in the industry or invite industry experts to speak virtually at a lunch-and-learn session. 

One of the biggest challenges of expanding your firm’s learning and development opportunities is finding the time to do it and making it a priority. But when you consider the pace of change in the workforce and the industry, along with the competition for high-performing employees, can you afford not to? 

Topics: Professional Development


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