There is a certain complacency that many organizations start to develop once employees move beyond their onboarding and initial probationary period. Now that these employees are settling into their roles, the thinking goes, they do not require further learning or training. This is not the right way to think about finance employees or their skills. Leading organizations know that learning is continuous and see their support for employee growth as an ongoing investment, not a one-time cost.
Benchmarking the number of days set aside for employee learning per year is a good first step for thinking more deeply about the development opportunities you offer the finance team. APQC's cross-industry data for this measure accounts for all formal learning and professional development time, such as training and onboarding, attending conferences, or taking classes or certification courses. It also reflects all levels of employees, including senior management and executives, operational workers and office staff, and middle managers and specialists.
Based on responses from more than 4,500 organizations, APQC finds those at the 25th percentile provide four (or fewer) learning days per employee, while organizations at the 75th percentile provide seven days (or more) per employee.
Future-Ready Finance Talent
A focus on learning at all levels of the organization is critical, both to maintain the skills needed today and to develop the skills finance talent will need in the future. For example, the technical skills required to take advantage of robotic process automation and artificial intelligence may be a competitive differentiator for finance talent today, but they could very well be a required competency in the near future.
To develop future-ready finance talent, some leading organizations train employees for “citizen development.” This approach empowers non-IT employees with the tools and skills to create automation and AI applications. The gains made by each employee may be incremental. Still, they collectively drive enterprise value by making tasks and processes faster, more efficient, and highly scalable.
Dedicated learning time is also essential for building a strong pipeline of future finance leaders who embody interpersonal skills like communication, problem-solving, negotiation, and critical thinking. Leading organizations don’t restrict training for these skills to a small, hand-picked few — they make it available to anyone interested in leadership positions. This enables employees to begin charting their career paths, which in turn boosts engagement and employee satisfaction.
Formal learning is also critical for an organization’s near-term needs, like maintaining current skills, qualifications, and certifications.
To maintain a CPA certificate in Texas, for example, an individual needs 120 hours of continuing professional education, or CPE, every three years. That’s about 15 days of formal learning in total, or about five days a year. Practically, this means that organizations at the median only give their finance teams the bare minimum number of dedicated learning days, and organizations at the 25th percentile are falling short by one day or more.
APQC research has identified several best practices used by organizations that excel at managing formal learning and development programs.
Act as an executive champion. The best learning programs are backed by commitment and resources from organizational leaders. Champion talent development for your finance team to grow their skills and job satisfaction.
Draw from in-house expertise. Leverage internal subject matter experts where possible. Employees appreciate learning from their peers, who already understand the organization’s culture, goals, and priorities.
Leverage technology. Self-service learning portals and learning management systems empower employees to chart their own learning paths and access resources at their own pace.
Align learning opportunities. Learning and performance development plans should align with organizational strategy and goals.
Find a partner. Team up with human resources or your learning and development function to think about the skills your finance team needs and the resources you can marshal to meet them.
Mix it up. It’s more effective to provide a mix of formal and informal learning opportunities. For example, blend in-person and online classes with job rotations or other hands-on learning opportunities.
Prepare for success. Provide transitional training, mentoring, and learning opportunities to prepare employees for success in new roles.
Learning Drives Retention
Employees care about their pay, but we have consistently found that they also value opportunities to learn. The pursuit of better development opportunities is one of the leading reasons why people leave their jobs. Opportunities for learning drive greater satisfaction and make finance talent more likely to stay with you because they’ve found a place where they can continue to grow and hone their skills.
Perry D. Wiggins, CPA, is CFO, secretary, and treasurer for APQC, a nonprofit benchmarking and best practices research organization based in Houston, Texas.