Continuing Education: A Vital Component of an Accountant’s Professional Development Toolkit

by Jessica E. McClain, CPA, CISA, PMP, CITP, CGFM, Girl Scouts of Nation's Capital – February 28, 2022
Continuing Education: A Vital Component of an Accountant’s Professional Development Toolkit

There has been a seismic shift in the role of accountants; they now need to have broader knowledge and expertise beyond the traditional financial competencies. Gone are the days of accountants only reporting on historical financial information. Now they must navigate the complexity of today’s business landscape of regulatory changes, client needs, technological advancements, employee expectations, investor interests and customer demands. Today’s accountants need to continuously adapt, evolve and improve to keep up with business’ accelerated pace of change. Continuing education is a tool accounting professionals can equip themselves with to build a future-ready career. CPAs should not view continuing education as a check-the-box compliance requirement but as a critical component of their professional development toolkit to make them more informed, engaged, strategic and value-driven professionals.

Evolution of the Accountant’s Role

Today’s clients view accountants as business partners who provide strategic guidance in navigating complex business problems. Clients are experiencing a broad spectrum of challenges and risks, including increased scrutiny from regulators and investors; the pandemic’s impact on the supply chain; environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues; and cybersecurity. Additionally, revenue recognition, leases and goodwill impairment are just some of the recent accounting standard updates organizations have implemented. Accountants must remain abreast of these challenges, risks and changes and understand the resulting impact on their organizations and clients. The Financial Accounting Standards Board, the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, accounting firms and state accounting societies offer free and low-cost training that provides timely guidance and resources to navigate these ever-evolving changes organizations and clients face.

Digital Disruption

Another vital topic for CPAs to remain informed about is cybersecurity, especially in today’s hybrid work environment. Furthermore, digital disruption exploded because of the pandemic. This disruption has completely changed how many accounting firms and their clients and accounting functions operate. Thus, the need to improve one’s digital competency is crucial. CPAs can now immerse themselves in a wide range of technology-related topics to increase future-ready competencies. Learning higher-level skills such as robotics process automation, data analytics and business intelligence can help accountants perform better profes­sionally, enhance client service and help their accounting function operate efficiently and effectively.

Change Your Career Trajectory  

Continuing education can help with exploring new career opportunities and career transitions. For example, the explosion of ESG has created new career opportunities for accounting professionals, including ESG reporting, investing and assurance services. In recent years, another specialty area that has grown is nonprofit accounting. There is a plethora of confer­ences and webinars that provide up-to-date information on trends, challenges and legislation focused on specific industries.

Human Skills in the Post-COVID-19 Workplace

The pandemic has reshaped the definition of leadership. It showed that employees could be resilient, agile and thrive in the face of uncertainty. Additionally, the pandemic created the need for even certified and experienced accounting professionals to strengthen these skills to navigate the emotional and personal impact of the pandemic on employees. To succeed in this new world of work and build high-performing teams, skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and creativity will be needed. Training and webinars on managing hybrid teams, communication, leadership, and diversity, equity and inclusion can help accounting professionals improve their human skills in this new era of work.

It is essential for accountants to be continuous learners and intentionally devote time to learning as part of their professional development journey. Continuing education is critical to professional success, and with the many flexible options available, accountants can easily make continuing education a part of their professional development toolkit.

Jessica E. McClain

Jessica E. McClain

Jessica E. McClain, CPA, CISA, PMP, CITP, CGFM, is the chief financial officer at Girl Scouts of Nation's Capital.

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This article appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.