Why Investing in Your Staff Is More Important Than Ever
A comprehensive, professional development strategy might be the boost your firm or company needs to keep your CPAs and other professional staff from running out the door.
It’s impossible not to hear about it—Americans are leaving their jobs in droves. Millions of business professionals, including CPAs, are reevaluating their relationship to both their employer and, ultimately, their profession. In fact, between April 2021 and May 2022, an average of more than 4 million people resigned from their jobs each month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The natural question, of course, is what can be done to stem the tide? How can employers retain talent when it seems like everyone has their eyes on the exit? A plethora of possible solutions have been proposed, ranging from the usual suspects (greater flexibility in scheduling, work-from-home options) to the downright luxurious (in-office massages and yoga classes).
However, there’s one investment that, while perhaps not as buzzworthy as lunchtime shiatzu, has proven to keep staff engaged and minimize turnover: ongoing professional development.
According to a 2019 Forbes article, most employees view employer-provided continuing professional education (CPE) favorably and see it as an investment in their careers and professional goals. The article notes that 86% of surveyed employees said they would leave their job for another that provided more professional development options. And, citing a 2018 LinkedIn workplace report, 94% of employees would stay longer with an employer that invested in their career.
SHOWCASING THE VALUE OF EDUCATION
While CPAs are required to complete 120 hours of CPE every three years as a condition of license renewal, CPE shouldn’t just stop with CPAs—there’s value in developing the skills of all your accounting and finance staff regardless of whether they’re working in public accounting, corporate finance, the nonprofit sector, or elsewhere. And, more importantly, skills development shouldn’t stop once a not-so-new hire has mastered the core competencies of their role.
Prado & Renteria, Illinois’ largest Hispanic, woman-owned CPA firm, takes a 360-degree approach to CPE, allowing staff to apply newly acquired knowledge in real time. As a CPE-sponsored licensee, the firm presents staff with engagement-specific training sessions prior to them beginning new engagements.
Hilda S. Renteria, CPA, co-founder and partner of Prado & Renteria, and a 30-plus-year Illinois CPA Society (ICPAS) member, notes that this approach has helped the firm defy the idea that CPE is separate from one’s immediate, day-to-day responsibilities. Instead, tailoring training sessions to the specific needs of upcoming projects ensures that their staff has the most up-to-date information needed to provide excellent service to their clients. “Our firm understands that in order to contribute to the growth of the communities the firm serves, the firm must invest in its team members’ growth,” Renteria says.
This commitment to professional development is also shared by Miller Cooper & Co., the 10th largest accounting firm in Chicagoland, where staff are supported in charting unique personal career paths. “We understand that everyone has different professional goals, and we’re continually looking for new ways to help our employees realize them,” says ICPAS member Emerys Murray, the firm’s HR and finance assistant. “By doing so, not only are we demonstrating our commitment to them, we’re also building a strong and knowledgeable workforce that’s able to help our clients achieve their goals.”
While Miller Cooper places an emphasis on the technical skills necessary in the firm’s engagements, cultivating the so-called soft skills doesn’t go overlooked. “Areas like communication, leadership, and time management are necessary to keep people engaged and motivated,” Murray notes.
At the Oak Brook, Ill.-based accounting firm Selden Fox, mentorship plays a further role in developing—and retaining—staff. From green new hires to subject matter experts, the firm’s HR manager, Daniel J. Ridgway, works to facilitate employee development. He says this early focus on growing skill sets helps to ensure non-management staff are able to act as firm resources and leaders even within their current roles. Then, as they’re promoted and expand their reach and influence in the firm, they’re already prepared to pass on their expertise to those they’ll supervise and mentor. “As employees progress through their careers and discover their areas of interest and expertise, we invest in them becoming subject matter experts who can be counted on to address specific client needs as well as pass their knowledge down to future leaders of the firm,” Ridgway explains.
By all indications, knowledgeable and engaged employees stick around longer and drive better business results—even outside of the accounting and finance world. Consider these two examples:
- CarMax: In response to the Great Recession of 2008, the auto dealer enhanced their employee training offerings, specifically to increase retention. Instead of cutting employee benefits, CarMax expanded its employee training and development programs and helped existing employees earn raises and promotions. As a result, CarMax’s sales went up 116% in eight years, as reported in 2020.
- Hyatt: The prominent hotel chain has long been known for robust trainings—from the housekeeping staff to the C-suite. The brand’s commitment to ongoing professional development is borne out in its retention rates. As of 2020, at least 14,000 of the company’s 75,000 employees had been with Hyatt for more than a decade.
INVESTING IN ONGOING TRAINING
So, you know you need to invest in your staff. What now? First, if you’re training your CPAs and other professional staff, it’s recommended that any education vendor you partner with be licensed as a CPE provider with either the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation—or equivalent agency, if not in Illinois—or the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. Second, it’s also recommended that the content you provide your staff be as closely aligned as possible with the scope of their current duties and roles.
ICPAS’ Corporate Access Program (CAP) covers these bases, offering a comprehensive CPE solution specifically targeted to corporations and non-profit organizations looking to provide their accounting and finance professionals with ongoing, customizable professional development. The program provides participating companies with team access to 40 hours of on-demand training courses, complimentary admission to select ICPAS conferences and various networking events throughout the year, as well as in-house soft skills training with a veteran leadership coach.
Several participating companies have found value in joining the CAP. Diversified CPC CFO Paul Caponigri, CPA, CGMA, MBA, a long-time ICPAS member, says that his finance team finds the program beneficial—even the non-CPAs who aren’t mandated to earn CPE.
Rhett Stenzel, controller for Rose Paving LLC, notes that he appreciates that the CAP offers material for “all staff at all levels.” His colleague, Samantha Spalding Davis, director of financial planning and analysis, feels that Rose Paving’s participation in the program “clearly demonstrates the company’s dedication to ongoing employee development.”
An ICPAS member for more than 20 years, Gayle Bobo, vice president of asset management and financial planning with the National Association of Realtors, stresses that the CAP has made it “seamless” for her team to register for relevant conferences and load up on on-demand content that suits each user’s needs.
When you consider that a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 33% of employees considered a lack of advancement opportunities as one of the major reasons they quit, it’s clear that organizations need to do more to make their talent feel valued. Access to relevant, timely CPE and ongoing professional development may be the missing pieces they’re looking for at your organization. And what do you have to lose? Allowing your staff to meaningfully engage in their development and investing in their advancement may just inspire them to invest in your organization’s growth.
Del Wright is an Insight contributor and development manager for the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois.