Training and development: master your destiny

The media spotlight is fixed firmly on job cuts in the UK financial services
industry. A week does not pass without another financial institution announcing
job cuts or recruitment freezes. Many accountants will simply weather this storm
and sit tight, but some are adopting a different strategy to overcome the
current economic climate. Many accountants are choosing masters degrees to
up-skill and ensure that they stand out in their current job or wider market
place, and training themselves out of a recession.

There is an established link between economic downturns and people looking to
increase their skills levels. But why would accountants, who are already
highly-skilled, choose to do this? Masters degrees traditionally have been a
choice for those interested in academic careers – but with the current economic
turmoil has come a reassessment of the importance of having additional
qualifications on a CV. The result is that more practicing accountants are now
looking beyond their existing professional qualifications.

Why a Masters?

Before answering the why, it is first important to deal with the why not. The
biggest single obstacle is time. Accountants in practice need to think carefully
about whether they can spend the time to make the most of their studying. The
solution is often distance and part-time learning, but students should not
underestimate the time commitment required by a masters.

Cost is another factor. If a candidate wants to impress with their CV they
need to ensure their masters is from a reputable business school. The costs will
be significant, however, and must be weighed against the benefits of investing
in their professional development.

This will be a significant decision at a time of economic uncertainty,
particularly if you are not currently employed. Indeed, if you have a forced
period of time out of the workforce is a masters the best use of this time?

Lastly, an individual needs to think how affected they are by the credit
crunch. Perhaps their area is not vulnerable to job cuts and so a masters degree
will be of less immediate value.

So a masters degree is not the right choice for everyone. However, for
accountants, who already have a very high level of professional training and
expertise, undertaking such a qualification can give a seasoned practitioner the
opportunity to take stock of what they have learnt through their career to date
and work on any skill gaps.

Today accountants need to have much more than just technical knowledge. An
understanding of related business areas such as finance, supply chain
management, economics and marketing is also necessary. Alongside such knowledge,
accountants need to possess the right mix of ‘soft skills’.

Not only will advanced skills such as communication, team work, leadership,
problem solving, professional ethics, project management and other key skills
help an accountant be more effective and therefore valuable in their current
role, it will also help them stand out at an interview for future positions. A
masters degree will assist in developing these skills.

There is a broad range of masters to which accountants are attracted. First
and foremost there is accountancy itself, often where accountants in practice
choose to specialise in an area, such as tax or financial reporting. More
general accounting masters degrees aimed at experienced accountants, such as
masters in accounting and finance, tend to be popular with those working within
financial institutions and give an advanced understanding of accountancy and
finance processes, reporting and research as well as management techniques.

Those with this combination of high level technical knowledge as well as
understanding of key management areas such as international business and
strategic management are able to contribute more fully to their organisation.

Then, of course, there is the MBA, typically where accountants are looking to
move to board level or stand out in a competitive market.

Lastly, accountants may undertake masters which focus on specific areas of
management that are relevant to their individual circumstances, such as
international business, human resource management or technology.
Regardless of the masters that accountants choose, the ultimate aim is the same.
Completing a masters enables a practicing accountant to become more valuable to
their organisation and gives them additional options to move into other areas of
the business either internally or with another employer. All very useful
characteristics in difficult economic times.

The master plan

If you think that a masters degree may be your best next move what are the
next steps?

  • SWOT yourself. Analyse your strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats.
    Look at your work related strengths – what do you do well, what are your unique
    selling points? What skills or knowledge areas do you need to further develop?
    Where could you go from here? What are your options for your next move or your
    next learning opportunity? How could the credit crunch and the tightening labour
    market affect you and your position? How does your CV compare with those of your
  • If a masters is right for you then invest time in researching business
  • Review the teaching quality and the backgrounds of the lecturing staff
  • Look at the links the school has with employers and the opportunities for
    professional networking – both with other students and visitors (e.g. guest
    lecturers and employers).
  • Make sure you can study the masters in a way that is practical for you. For
    instance, can you complete one module full-time on-site and the next part-time
    through distance learning?
  • Make sure the masters will give you what you want at the end. If you are
    completing the masters primarily for professional advancement you need to ensure
    that when you complete the course you will be able to demonstrate the tangible
    areas where you have developed, including areas of soft skill development.

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