Training is becoming a high priority in firms of all sizes and technology is no longer an option for accounting professionals. Therefore, leadership in all firms should assess their current situation and develop a training strategy for the future. In a previous article, I outlined the cost justification for a training program. In this article, I intend to demonstrate the significance of training requirements in a firm and how to get started with a basic curriculum. In developing a curriculum, firms must face reality and admit that some of the existing skills are no longer as valuable as they were in the past. The computer has eliminated many production tasks in compliance services. Process improvement and the establishment of standards go hand in hand in the development of a training program. It is difficult to train in a culture and environment where there are vague or unwritten standards and procedures. In many smaller firms, each partner has his or her own way of doing things. This creates frustration for professional and support staff and is counter productive to a training program.
Training is expensive, but the alternative is obsolescence and disaster. Firms have traditionally utilized CPE classes to provided training. The classes offered by state societies and the AICPA are both time consuming and seldom targeted for the individual or the firm. A significant amount of time and expense is spent traveling and learning information that may not be pertinent to the firm’s practice. Measuring CPE by the hour rather than results must change. Fortunately we are beginning to see this change.
With this said, there has to be a better way of training. With new technology and the growing body of knowledge, it makes sense to bring much of this training in house. By doing so, it can be planned, organized and delivered in methods that are more efficient than traveling to attend an 8-16 hour conference. In larger firms, it is cheaper to contract with expert instructors to train in-house so that more personnel in the firm benefit. We believe a training coordinator is essential in order to insure a successful training program. (The training coordinator position will be specifically discussed in my next article.) First, we must define the requirements and establish a sample curriculum.
Professional educators develop a training objective, prepare a curriculum, develop lessons plans and then execute the training program. Accounting firms are no different. However, most accountants have little experience in education other than their own. Therefore, we should draw from the experience of others and utilize the skills and strategies available.
The following training curriculum applies to small firms as well as large firms. The difference generally is in available resources. In smaller firms, it may be necessary to share resources with other firms or outsource the training altogether. Getting owners to commit to a firm training program is a difficult task due to the cost and time requirement. Training is something that is talked about, but in most firms, no one is really responsible. Everyone is focused on charge hours. I encourage you to insist your partners review this sample curriculum. As you review the sample training curriculum, I encourage you to focus on the following:
- The breadth of the knowledge required is overwhelming and growing. A Team approach is necessary.
- The hours estimated shown on the following example are probably at a minimum.
- Different personnel require different training. Not all partners require the same training.
- Most of your personnel are currently at different levels.
- Training is dynamic and an on-going process.
- Standards and procedures are required in order to initiate an efficient training program.
- Someone must be responsible for the training program and this person should be a professional. (Educator versus an accountant.) Most firms recruit the wrong skills for the training coordinator position due to the lack of knowledge and experience.
- Shorter training sessions are advisable and more effective.
- A firm Intranet and computer-based training are cost effective mediums for transferring information and knowledge.
The following training curriculum is basic. There are significant areas of the practice that have not been addressed (i.e. practice management and administration).
SAMPLE TRAINING CURRICULUM
TopicEst HrsPartnersProf StaffAdmin StaffBasics Firm Orientation8XXXWindows- beginners2XXXWord Processing - beginners4XXX
Spreadsheet - beginners4XXXInternet beginners4XXXEmail/Calendar2XXXTime and Expense Entry1XXX
Intermediate Windows2 XXSpreadsheet4 XXInternet Research2XXX Advanced Word Processing4 XXSpreadsheet4 XXEmail/Calendar4XXXInternet4XXX Core Accounting Applications Tax Prep Individual8XX Prep Business8XX Strategy/Planning4XX Forms2 XX Research Tax - beginning2XX Tax - advanced2XX AA - beginning2XX AA - advanced2XX Practice Management Billing2XXXReporting2X X Workpapers/Trail Balance Software
Basics4 XXData Conversion2 XXFinancial Reporting4 XX Software Quicken4-6XX QuickBooks4-6XX Write Up8 X Misc10-16 X
These totals do not include specialized training in supported accounting applications (i.e. MAS 90 or Great Plains). Some of these hours will have to be repeated annually due to annual software updates. Many partners will say there is no way they can spend that kind of time on training. I encourage you to look at this curriculum as a two to three year program. This is about progress and not perfection. If you don’t get started now, you will only fall further behind. As a further incentive, statistics from the Boomer Technology Circles (each circle has ten firms of similar size from different geographic markets) indicate there is a direct correlation between a training program and increased revenue per full-time equivalent.
Most of the reasons for a training program are obvious, but let’s look at some of the more strategic advantages:
- Recruiting, hiring and retaining employees
- Providing non-compliance type services
- Getting a return on your technology investment
Viewing personnel and technology as strategic assets will not only improve the culture of your firm, it will also increase productivity and profitability.
This article provided by Gary Boomer, CPA, of Boomer Consulting.