Accounting firms that offer training programs in house for staff and management want to ensure that individuals meet continuing professional education (CPE) requirements. But, at many firms, training programs encompass larger goals and are at the core of a firm’s culture.
Now more than ever, however, firms need to assess the effectiveness of their programs for individuals and for the entire group.
“At Citrin Cooperman we view our CPE training as more than just a way for CPAs to achieve their licensing requirements,” Mike Rhodes, audit partner at Citrin Cooperman & Company LLP in New York told AccountingWEB. Citrin Cooperman is the nation’s 31st largest regional accounting and advisory firm.
“We always have to look at the time away from servicing our clients as a component of the cost of training. We continually evaluate the benefits from our program to make sure it is worthwhile and meeting the objectives we have set out," Rhodes said.
“We see training as a way to enhance technical skills but also as an opportunity to give our staff tools toward personal growth by gearing some of our training toward industries we specialize in, including real estate, financial services, and franchising," he said. "We also have developed Citrin Cooperman University, where we offer courses in non-technical areas – not necessarily for CPE credits – in leadership skills, presentation skills, negotiation, and project management.”
Bruce Gorman, audit partner at New York-based accounting and advisory firm Berdon LLP, said that his firm uses a number of qualitative measures to judge the effectiveness of its program. Berdon, one of the top 30 regional accounting firms, offers accounting and advisory services to a full range of industries, specializing in closely held companies.
The training program at Berdon is designed to support its goals for individual professional growth and client satisfaction.
“We view our training as a supplement to the continuing professional education requirements for licensure and as a supplement to the hard skills that they learn in the field. We are looking for staff growth indealing with technical concepts as well as increased work efficiency,” Gorman told AccountingWEB.
“Staff growth is a key measurement. We want to help them interact with clients. When clients call our staff directly, it is a measure of the confidence the client has in their technical skills, and it is important to the firm to have our staff possess the necessary soft skills," he said. "When the staff can respond to a client’s technical questions, managers and partners have more time to spend on more complex issues. Client satisfaction is the key measure to ultimately determine the effectiveness of our training program, not just at the staff level but at every level."
At Citrin Cooperman, training coordinators solicit feedback from many groups to measure the effectiveness of their training.
“As we develop new content, we ask for feedback from our quality control department for areas where we can do better as a group. We talk with our staff member and their mentors, who play a crucial role in making our training program work,” Rhodes said.
“We rotate some of our courses so that they are offered every other year. This has the advantage that an individual may take similar courses more than once. The first time is an introduction and the second time reinforces what the person learned the first time. When we bring a course back, we try to improve it by building off of the feedback we received. We typically revisit all the evaluations and the materials originally developed to deliver the content. We often change instructors and each new instructor brings their own flavor to the course material when they deliver it,” Rhodes said.
“Much of our training is developed in house,” Rhodes added, “but we will bring in experts where we feel we will benefit from an outside, independent perspective, such as with emerging technical areas like accounting for uncertain tax positions.”
Training professionals at Berdon look for feedback from the field at all levels.
"We develop and conduct much of our training in house at Berdon, but we will bring in experts in industry or human resources, for example, to conduct seminars for the upper levels,” Gorman said. "One measure of the effectiveness of these seminars is the manager’s or partner’s ability to disseminate this information to lower staff levels."
Written course evaluations
Like most firms, Goodman & Company, LLP, a regional firm with 10 offices in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C., asks for a written evaluation at the conclusion of a course. GoodCo University coordinator Lizbeth Alter said that requiring staff to complete an evaluation in order to obtain CPE credit has been invaluable in assessing training needs.
Berdon also looks for staff input and links that input to the individual’s needs.
“We ask our staff to review every course to tell us what benefits they derived and what courses they would like in the future to help them grow and meet their goals,” Gorman said. “We meet with each staff member and discuss with them what the firm feels they need to grow as a professional.”
Soft skills and technical training combined
Training programs at Berdon also are designed to incorporate human resources goals.
“We mix different levels together in our programs. The more senior professionals share their experiences, and staff becomes more comfortable with each other. This encourages staff to ask questions at the courses,” Gorman said.
Staff members also are instructors, and that is a form of training in itself, according to Karen Froewiss, director of human resources at Berdon. “They become experts in the subject area but also gain communication and public speaking skills."