Professional development – back in training

Whether you’re part-qualified or many years down the line, career development
remains the holy grail of any finance professional keen to make it to the top.
But can you really continue to grow during the chill wind of a recession, or is
personal and professional development one of the first things to disappear in
tougher times? Does something have to give in the fight to keep a full
complement of staff, or do the recessionary pressures squeezing the world of
employment actually mean that you will emerge better equipped than before?

Part Qualified
So far it appears that funding for training has not really been affected. The
majority of our clients operating in both private and public sectors are
maintaining their original benefit and training packages. This is a very
positive message across our UK network, suggesting that companies still invest
in their staff.

However, this does not imply that part-qualified employees have been resting
on their laurels. There has been a noticeable refocusing among junior
accountants who may have historically let things drift, missed exam dates and
applied the next time round. It has been recognised that ongoing training and
professional development is necessary to progress, particularly in the current

Interestingly, actual grades have also become more important. Previously
employers would have asked about passes or fails, whereas now, part-qualified
candidates know that high-quality exam results can differentiate them from their

While funding appears to have remained, companies no longer turn a blind eye
to the issue of repaying fees when part qualified employees leave during their
contracted period. Clients hiring part-qualifieds are also less keen to pay back
previous employers, or even assist with it as they once did. As a consequence,
this pool of talent is in danger of stagnating because most choose to stay where
they are rather than risking a costly move. Other part-qualifieds are reluctant
to move because of market fears. As a result, many employees are remaining in
their current roles, despite being over-qualified, which can have an impact on
their CV.

Newly Qualifieds
At the newly qualified level, the fact that there is little news to report is
good news. The lack of investment in training accountants during the previous
recession led to a significant shortage of newly qualified accountants entering
the market between 2004 and 2008. The majority of employers did not foresee the
direct impact this would have on average starting salaries, which rose by 23%
during that period. Although salaries have dropped again to levels of 2000,
employers have no doubt learned the lesson from the last recession, and have
continued to invest in training despite the current economic climate.

Continuing Professional Development
A trend which has advanced (especially since CIMA’s guidelines in 2006) is the
shift towards institute-led or co-sponsored continuing professional development
(CPD) rather than using fee-charging external providers. At this year’s CIPFA
conference, it was noticeable that the delegates at institute events seem to
have increased, partially through the growth of acceptable “professional
networking” and sharing thoughts and experiences with peers, but also through
the fact that most conferences or seminars count towards validated CPD hours.
The ICAEW events that we have been involved in this year have also seen a
broader range of delegates, especially a range of more senior delegates from
larger blue chips who continue to support their CPD but have decided to rely on
less expensive methods to secure this.

Senior Level
At the senior level, career development has never been about sitting back and
waiting for a company to take you forward, so it stands to reason that financial
controllers and finance directors aren’t stagnating just because the economy has
gone backwards. Indeed, during a recent Martin Ward Anderson roundtable d
iscussion with senior finance heads, the finance department has been thrust into
the limelight with a new found respect for the work done and a continued
investment at this level.

Redundant finance professionals
Redundant candidates appear to be networking more than studying. Although data
suggests that some are broadening their skills base by looking at legal or
business-related courses, rather than pure financial training or updates. A
large proportion of candidates within permanent positions seek our advice on
whether masters in finance or related MBAs will enhance their career prospects.
The important thing to remember is to undertake studies because you feel it will
enhance your skill set and not primarily for your salary.

Preparing for the upturn
It comes as no surprise that in-house training functions that would have
typically delivered valuable softer skills training have suffered from cuts. But
at the same time the recession has allowed employees to gain greater exposure on
the job more quickly than they would have done historically at every level.
Let’s not forget apathy has never sat well with career development. Everything
that occurs in your working life should be seen as an opportunity as opposed to
a setback. Retrenchments and restructuring can provide scope for the advancement
of your career. Those employees who have been retained during these difficult
times will be of huge worth to businesses in the future.

But, similar to the housing market, the trick is to know when to catch that
upwards curve. The job market has eased slightly over the last few months, and
the signs are encouraging. The ideal opportunity may present itself at any time,
but are you prepared for that eventuality? Our advice to all finance
professionals is the same ­ every time a new project is completed or a new
skillset is learned, your CV should be updated to reflect these changes, so that
it forms an accurate and ongoing record of substantiated achievements as
opposed to a hurried look back at some less than pertinent accomplishments.
Clients and candidates should prepare for the upturn and be ready to embrace new
opportunities that will arise. We will emerge from this recession and when we
do, you want to be in the best shape.

Adam Davison and Alex Jordan are managers for the southern and north west
regions at Martin Ward Anderson

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