Date posted: 22/05/2020 8 min read

Why you could be using the time at home to upskill

Whether it’s working on soft skills or learning about cyber security, upskilling now could prove to be a great asset post-COVID-19.

In Brief

  • Upskilling and professional development is important at any time for CAs.
  • Beyond the weeks of working from and staying at home, this is a valuable time for upskilling.
  • Training in areas such as connectivity, connection and emotional intelligence is a good starting point.

By John Burfitt

As the old adage goes ‘time is of the essence’, and for many people there’s never been a time quite like the enforced COVID-19 shutdown.

Beyond the long hours, days and weeks of working from and staying at home, this is a valuable time that should not be wasted.

That’s the belief of Sir Donald Brydon, the author of landmark UK audit report, The Brydon Review, and the subject of a feature article in the Acuity June/July issue (available June 1).

While Brydon calls the pandemic “the worst threat to the economy I have ever lived through,” he claims now is the time for leaders to step up and lead the way.

“Business goes on, so we must not talk ourselves into a total depression,” he says. “We must take this seriously but also see this as an opportunity to improve ourselves and the way we work.

“Set some goals, do some online study, and aim to come out of this knowing more and being able to do more than you did before,” says the former chairman of the London Stock Exchange.

“What do your clients need that you don’t know? Focus on learning that this year.”

Continuing Professional Development

Making a commitment to continuing professional development (CPD) is important at any time, with chartered accountants required to complete a minimum 20 CPD hours each year as part of accreditation.

The social and economic revolution unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the rules of business: specific upskilling is now considered an essential for what lies ahead.

“The rapid changes in the business environment will have a lasting influence on what professional skills and work practices are highly valued,” says Professor Paul Andon, director of engagement (accounting) at the UNSW Business School.

“We don’t want to waste the potential of the current crisis to have a lasting positive influence on our professional development, and to remain appropriately-skilled in a post-COVID-19 world.”

Step away from the computer

Taylor Hulls CA, a manager at DSR Partners in NSW says training in communication and leadership skills has already been identified as a key development strategy within his team.

“Too often I see accountants communicating solely via email,” he says. “Keeping in constant contact with businesses, allowing clients to rely on you guiding them and explaining it to them in a way that gives them confidence in your advice, will foster a relationship into the future and bring real value to your position in the firm.”

Certainly, new training in areas such as connectivity, connection and emotional intelligence is a good starting point for upskilling, claims EY Oceania’s learning and development leader, Anne Renwick.

“Physically, everything has changed, so a CA needs to look at how to build a stronger sense of communication, engagement and retention in a virtual context,” she says, adding skills aligned with trust and authentic business relationships are essential.

“You need to develop the skills to find new ways of getting the best out of people – both co-workers and clients – when they might never have met you in person,” she says.

Under lock and key

Professor Rahat Munir, head of the department of accounting and corporate governance at Macquarie Business School believes training on the intricacies of fraud and crime will soon prove to be essential. He alleges history has shown a financial crisis is usually followed by a period of financial crime. “Which explains why we are seeing new interest in CAs learning more about cyber security and forensic accounting, as these are emerging as such important areas,” he says. “Some companies are anticipating issues with hacking and spamming in the times ahead, so we as a profession need to be prepared by knowing what to look out for and how to deal with it.”

Analytic leadership

UNSW’s Professor Andon predicts effective management and leadership skills – an astute insight into positive business strategies and performance, in particular – will prove vital in the upcoming months.

“Analytic expertise will be in even greater demand under markedly changed business conditions,” he says.

Developing more effective methods of resilience and demonstrating decisive leadership to your team and clients is also crucial through these times of marked change, he adds. “Now is also the time to take your leadership skills to the next level.”

Heading in a digital direction

Possibly more than at any time in recent history, COVID-19 has demanded a rapid acceleration of the digital transformation of business. Identifying potential future digital directions and making an early move on them could be a wise career investment.

“Building our understanding of how technology can play a role in how we work is so important for our clients,” says Petra Ladkin, Deloitte’s senior manager, Capabilities of the Future.

“Providing technical expertise when working with clients is always vital, but how you apply those skills in more agile ways has become equally if not more important.”

Aside from the upskilling, investing in professional development should also be fun and something that will help keep employees motivated during this strange time of upheaval.

As Sir Donald Brydon says of chartered accountants: “As a profession, I’m a great believer that if we keep our employees happy and safe, then they will continue to take care of the customers.”

Avenues to Learning

Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand offers a range of courses through its Education Store, including those devoted specifically to COVID-19-related CPD. There’s webinars, conferences, workshops and eLearning on topics from tax to business and ethics.

Deloitte Australia’s leadership and learning director Debbie Ekas recommends LinkedInLearning for critical thinking and analysis development; Harvard Business Review articles for topics such as curiosity and empathy; and Singularity University’s The Corporate Innovation Podcast for exploring transformation and growth.

EY has an extensive podcast library. EY Oceania’s learning and development leader Anne Renwick recommends Change Happens by Jenelle McMaster – and Gabrielle Dolan’s Authentic Leadership podcast.

In the area of forensic accounting, Macquarie University’s Rahat Munir recommends Macquarie University’s Graduate Certificate (6 months), Graduate Diploma (12 months) and Master’s (18 months) – all doable online. The university also offers a Cybergovernance course and Management Master’s (1 year).

UNSW has short online courses in managing digital transformation and commercial acumen, 10-week postgraduate subjects such as Accounting Analytics for Business Decisions Making and Integrated Reporting, and Masters programs in advanced financial analysis, technology and analytics.

Sydney writer John Burfitt writes about business for a range of platforms. He has been writing for Acuity for two years and also teaches media at the University of NSW and the University of Wollongong.

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