The best technology skill you can have in an employee is….

My wife is a second grade teacher - her day is filled with inspiring and educating eight year olds. While the tactics used to educate eight year olds is different than those used for 18, 38 and 58 year olds, one common factor does apply - the desire to teach yourself.

One of the mantras you hear in education is that classroom hours are only a fraction of the education process. Students should spend a multiple of about 2x or more reviewing/studying/practicing what they just heard in the classroom. I used to teach drivers education part-time while in college. This was before the advent of GPS in vehicles. I would often take students driving to locations where I was not familiar, knowing that eventually, we’d end up someplace I’d recognize before the two hour lesson ended. The time spent in the driver’s education car, a lackluster white Dodge, was to build on skill sets that were developed driving with the student’s parents. It seems the best students I had were the ones that grew up on farms and understood how to back up a vehicle – turning the wheels one way moved the vehicle in an opposite direction. Those students excelled at the maneuverability test. The worst students I had were the ones that their parents were afraid to drive with them!  The fact is they needed education and reinforcement beyond the classroom setting.
Once again, I’m drawing parallels with education for technology in CPA firms. No, your parents aren’t going to come out of retirement and teach you something new, you as the end user have to take some of the responsibility yourself. Much of the end user education today comes as a byproduct of consumer driven tools – advanced cell phones, Web 2.0 and ubiquitous Internet. Users simply have tech skills because their personal life demands it. While I don’t want to involve generational differences in this argument, one might say this applies to Millenials or Gen Y, but I’d say this applies to Baby Boomers and beyond as well. Granny is getting on Facebook as much today as your typical high schooler.
You often hear the term “champion” in terms of a software product at your office. Who are those people and how did they get there? Those people that have the unofficial title of CCH Engagement Wizard or Microsoft Excel Guru – I doubt they took a class beyond what was offered to everyone. I bet they embraced the software and wanted to use it more than the 20% capacity most users do. If you want to be valued by your firm, take a step toward being a champion. Your firm and your peers will respect you for it! Take the time to learn some of this stuff on your own, it will pay dividends in the future.

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Jim Fahey is COO of Apple Growth Partners, a regional CPA firm in Ohio. His focus is on the effective and efficient use of technology within the firm by all team members.  He is also in charge of talent management and retention at his firm.  A background of IT and Human Resources helps Jim bridge the gap of technology complexities with end users who just want their computer to work so they can be chargeable.  Being a very cheap (frugal sounds better) person himself, he is always looking for ways to save dollars at his firm.  He is Director of Education for the Association for Accounting Administration and past Technology Committee member of the Ohio Society of CPA's.  He often leads industry CPE events on the topics of Information Technology, CPA firm practice management and human resources/recruiting. Find out more about Jim on LinkedIn.

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