The Value of Continued Education

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The Value of Continued Education
By Jeff Jardine, CMA®, CPA, PMP
Senior Consultant, Deloitte & Touche LLP

I recently had the opportunity to speak with an executive of a major professional sports franchise. This team was in danger of not making the post-season, and I asked the executive if he was worried that the players would waste the extra summer vacation instead of working to improve.

I asserted that the best method for his players to improve was by participating in the playoffs. He disagreed with me. “Our players,” he said, “understand very well that champions are made in the off season as well as during the season. The players who are satisfied merely by making it into the league are destined to underachieve.” He then cited certain players’ specific improvements which began during the previous offseason and then continued during the season. Indeed, I could not deny his examples.

In retrospect, this executive’s observation obviously applies well beyond professional sports. And while we may be tempted to think that greatness in any profession is a product of luck or chance, the truth is that without exception, excellence is the product of diligent work and personal development. As young professionals enter the workforce and at times scramble to meaningfully contribute to projects and other initiatives, they would be wise to remember the importance – beyond a CMA or a CPA certification – of continued professional development.

The Commoditization of Accounting and Financial Services

Consider for a moment where the largest office in the world is for Deloitte & Touche LLP (my employer), the largest professional services firm in the world by revenue. New York? Washington DC? Los Angeles? In fact, Deloitte’s largest office is in Hyderabad, India with over 6,000 professionals. PriceWaterhouseCoopers has recently followed Deloitte’s lead into India. These offices do not serve Indian firms, they serve U.S.-based clients. Can auditing and analytical work really be outsourced? You might be surprised.

Thus, as accounting skills become available worldwide, how can young professionals distinguish themselves? Beyond certifications and degrees (which have finite beginnings and endings), the answer lies within continuing professional development and education. 

The Knowledge Economy

In his book, “The 8th Habit,” professor and consultant Steven R. Covey explains the challenges of the progression of our economy from the Industrial Age to the Knowledge Worker age:

“Knowledge workers…provide focus, creativity, and leverage in utilizing…investments to better achieve the organization’s objectives…the Knowledge Worker age will eventually bring about a downsizing of up to 90 percent of the Industrial Age workforce…Current outsourcing and unemployment trends are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Young professionals should grasp the importance of this “Knowledge Worker age” through embracing opportunities for required (CMA/CPA certifications) and non-required (do you understand derivatives, ETFs, CDOs) training, both online and in person. Professional conferences, such as IMA’s Annual Conference taking place in Orlando June 6-9, can also be great networking and learning opportunities. Though some financial and time investments will often be required, they can be deferred through some corporate initiatives.

Another Suggestion: Read

In another tome, “Love is the Killer App,” former yahoo executive Tim Sanders explains how he has been able to amass his huge store of knowledge and turn that into success by reading business books. Tim Sanders is no casual reader – he reads books religiously and takes notes in the front cover. If he thinks the book has real value, he reads it multiple times. He reads classics as well as cutting-edge books, and does this no matter what else is going on in his career. 

If Sanders believes a book can help a person in his network, he buys the book for the individual and sends it to him or her. Of course, Tim would be a great friend to have, but each of us can learn from his success despite not having platinum status on Amazon.com. Local libraries are an outstanding and underutilized resource.

Learning How to Learn

Finally, among all the skills we learn, perhaps the most valuable is the ability to actually learn. During my years as a university student, I taught Spanish to adults as a part-time job. The adults came from widely varied professional and educational backgrounds (some having none, some having advanced degrees). 

As various students struggled to learn the language, I came to this striking conclusion: regardless of degrees obtained or professional experience, those who had learned over the course of their lives to teach themselves new skills – that is, those who had learned how to learn – were by far the most successful. Years later, I have reconnected with many of these adults after they finished their assignments abroad, and this has again been impressed on me: above degrees and certifications, learning how to learn is perhaps the most valuable skill.

Young professionals who recognize the value of continued learning will in every way be like professional athletes who fine tune their athletic skills throughout their playing careers (though the million-dollar checks might be a ways off). Good luck to all of you as you take advantage of the valuable learning opportunities all around us!

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