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Taking control

An evolving workplace and technologies are changing the way accountants learn

By Clive Webb  


This article was produced in association with ACCA

Life for professional accountants is evolving. The shifts that we face need us to develop new skills and to grow existing ones. This is at a time when the nature of employment is changing too. We need to be increasingly self-motivated in ensuring that we have the right balance of skills to meet the demands of our roles. How do we achieve this? ACCA has looked at the future of learning in the profession and concluded that taking more responsibility for our own development is an opportunity to take control of our careers.

There are four key factors that influence learning in the workplace and hence how we obtain the skills that we need to ensure we are successful.

The first of these factors is the impact
of the evolution of technology on finance.We are aware of the predictions about the impact of automation in the workplace;
the loss of jobs that particularly impact the entry-level roles that have provided the traditional training grounds for generations
of accountants in industry or in practice. While this is indeed occurring, it presents an opportunity for the professional accountant. We need to find innovative ways of fast-tracking individuals through experiences they will no longer gain on the job, particularly at the start of their careers. The second factor is that as a society we are developing different career expectations. We have transitioned from a career path where we saw longevity as a value to one where we look to shorter-term career steps that gain us experience. We use the change in role as a developmental opportunity rather than relying on our employers to guide our progression. There are also more of us in the workplace. We
live in an era of four generations as life expectancy and the need to earn an income increase. We therefore have a broader
range of development needs throughout our working lives.

Thirdly, the combination of these
two factors leads us to think differently about the work that we do and the desire to be more flexible in our working lives. More of us contract on shorter-term projects as the opportunities differ and circumstances change.

As individuals we need to be able to demonstrate that our skills are current and up-to-date, as this is the mechanism by which we gain our next role. As employers we need to be aware that the traditional career pathways upon which many of our career development programmes are based are no longer relevant. We need to reappraise how we grow relevant talent to sustain our organisations in the future and, as a result, adapt our traditional views.

Finally, the implication is that we are increasingly self-motivated in how we develop our career paths and our resultant learning needs. We place greater reliance on our professional bodies and ourselves, rather than expecting our employers to deliver.

For many, the learning experience in the workplace is defined by courses that their employer has provided. This ignores the fact that the majority of what we learn comes from on-the-job experiences— learning by what we do and our mistakes. The fundamentals of how we learn are not changing. We should not forget the importance of on-the-job experiences.


There is an increasing range of learning activities that we can undertake. As learners we have access to online academies provided by leading players, often in combination with academic institutions. These give us greater access to an extended range of development opportunities. What we need to remember is that we need to reinforce what we learn from these courses back in the workplace, to internalise them and develop our own set of rules. All too often, as employers, we ignore the online resources and do not incorporate them into the personal learning journey.

As learners we need to be more sophisticated in how we select the learning opportunities that are right for us. We need to understand the performance outcome that we are seeking to attain and then determine how we will achieve this goal from the range of options available to us.

The implication for the learning and development community, and therefore
for employers, is to reflect the shift from being organisers of courses and structured programmes to being curators of content that is available when we, as learners, need it. Knowledge, both technical and skill- related, is something that we increasingly have at our fingertips. We can search for information at the touch of a button. As learners our key skill is to analyse, interpret and apply information from sources that we have evaluated as trustworthy. In our fast- moving world, knowledge that we have learnt is rapidly becoming out of date. At
the heart of this is the need for employers
to create an environment where learning is part of the culture. Too often we think that it is something that distracts from adding value in the work we do. In the knowledge society it is the value that we as individuals and as organisations add. We need to be in an environment that supports our development, values success and rewards contribution.

We should also accept that not everybody wants to learn and grow. There are those who are comfortable with their current position and expertise. They do, however, need to remain up to date.


Technology plays an increasing role in
the delivery of learning. From MOOCs (massive open online courses) through to the use of virtual and augmented reality as learning tools, we are seeing an evolution in capability. But we must not ignore the role that traditional face-to-face learning can play. We need to be more sophisticated as learners in choosing the appropriate programme.

Much of the effectiveness of learning is undermined, however, by poor design. This is a challenge that the learning community needs to address.


The need for guidance from those more experienced than ourselves is increasing. As a profession, the challenge to address this need through effective mentoring programmes is paramount. The technology-driven transformation will potentially reduce the number of middle-management roles, where traditionally we have had the opportunity to mentor and coach others.

The future of learning is therefore one that we as individuals need to grasp for ourselves. We need to utilise the increased opportunities available to us. After all, it is your career.

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