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Upskilling staff: 7 key areas for your practice’s employees to develop

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Upskilling staff is a way for accountancy and bookkeeping practices to gain a competitive advantage in a crowded marketplace. That’s why it’s important to provide regular training opportunities to your staff, enabling them to keep their skills up to date.

By investing in ongoing development, you’ll give your clients better advice and add value to their businesses.

For example, your staff might learn about the latest changes in accounting standards and tax legislation or acquire specialist expertise – perhaps in research and development tax reliefs.

You could also win new clients, and generate extra revenue, if you invest in training that enables you to offer additional services such as payroll.

As well as helping you to grow your practice, upskilling staff can be a means of enabling your practice to operate more efficiently.

By training your staff to use technological tools, including cloud accounting software and practice management software, you can reduce the amount of time they spend on manual tasks such as sending out invoices and tracking hours spent on a job.

You can also invest in training that helps your staff to collaborate more effectively, so they innovate and come up with new ideas and processes.

Another important benefit of upskilling staff is your practice is more likely to attract and retain high-calibre employees as a result.

LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report found that 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career.

Seven key skills for your staff to develop

Development is a huge area – so many accountants and bookkeepers will often focus on acquiring and maintaining the core technical knowledge that’s relevant to their daily work.

Nevertheless, they can also learn other, more general, skills that will help them to be even more effective at their jobs, serve their clients better and enable the practice to grow.

So, what key skills could your staff develop now? Here are seven to consider.

1. Soft skills

As accountants and bookkeepers are generally renowned for their technical expertise, it’s often their soft skills that set them apart from their competitors.

If your practice has staff members with strong soft skills, they’ll be effective at building relationships with each other and with your clients.

According to LinkedIn’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report, the most sought-after soft skills are:

  • Creativity
  • Persuasion
  • Collaboration
  • Adaptability
  • Emotional intelligence.

2. Cloud accounting

The inexorable rise of cloud accounting continues at pace, but your staff need training to get maximum use out of cloud accounting software packages.

As well as enabling them to set up and use the software on a day-to-day basis, training will teach them how to run reports and use other specialist features, improve their productivity and ensure compliance with ever-changing regulation.

As technology is constantly evolving, and software packages are continually being updated, staff need to receive regular updates in addition to the initial training they receive.

This allows them to learn about new functionality and keep up with the latest technological trends.

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3. Time management

This is a crucial skill for all professionals to develop, but it’s particularly important for accountants and bookkeepers, who often work long hours and have heavy workloads.

If your staff have good time management skills, they’re likely to get more done in a shorter time period, enabling them to leave the office promptly at the end of the day and enjoy a healthier work-life balance.

Time management is a crucial component of stress management – staff members who know how to prioritise and set boundaries are less likely to feel overwhelmed by their to-do list or take time off work due to anxiety.

4. Analytical reasoning

Your clients are collecting more data than ever before and they want to know the story behind the numbers.

As a result, they’ll be looking for support from people who can help them to interpret their data, identify patterns and drive business growth.

By training your staff in analytical reasoning skills, you’ll be able to support your clients and potentially generate extra revenue from additional consultancy work.

5. Customer service

Customers’ expectations are evolving all the time as a result of demographic changes – for example, more millennials starting their own businesses and becoming clients of accountancy firms – as well as technological advances and other societal trends.

Hence, accountancy and bookkeeping practices that prioritise customer service have an opportunity to develop long-lasting and lucrative relationships with their clients.

Customer service training will help your staff to understand how they can keep your clients happy, solve their problems and turn them into advocates of your practice who will then bring in other clients through word of mouth.

6. Leadership

The notions of ‘top down’ and ‘command and control’ leadership are now outdated.

Instead, people at all levels of organisational life are increasingly encouraged to be leaders in their own way.

In the context of an accountancy or bookkeeping practice, leadership doesn’t necessarily mean managing a large team of people. It can mean having specialist knowledge in a particular area, or taking responsibility for organising knowledge-sharing events such as brown bag lunches.

If you invest in your team’s leadership skills, you’re likely to benefit from them displaying greater innovation and proactivity.

You should also see them develop their own self-awareness and build stronger relationships with team members.

7. Industry awareness

Accounting and bookkeeping don’t happen in isolation. They are inextricably intertwined with the broader business landscape, as well as developments in government policy.

So, it’s crucial that staff in your practice are aware of recent and proposed changes in legislation, government consultations that may lead to legislative changes at a later date, and key announcements from HM Treasury and HMRC.

They also need to understand how changing consumer behaviours and major economic, political or societal events – such as Brexit or the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic – could affect the practice and its clients, both today and in the future.

Finally, they should be aware of how emerging technologies such as blockchain, automation and artificial intelligence are set to transform the accounting and bookkeeping profession, as well as businesses in other sectors.

Your staff can gain industry awareness by reading articles in the business and trade press, joining forums, listening to podcasts and webinars, and doing CPD (continuing professional development) with their professional bodies.

Vision for the future

Upskilling staff requires both money and time. So, any learning and development programme should be properly thought through.

A good place to start is with a skills gap assessment.

Which skills does the practice have today and which does it lack? What is its vision for the future and which skills does it need to make that vision a reality?

It’s also important to consider the needs of both individuals and the practice overall when creating a learning and development programme and deciding how the training budget should be allocated.

Finally, the culture of the practice might need to change to ensure that upskilling is seen not as unnecessary expenditure and an unwanted day out of the office, but rather as a sensible investment that underpins the future of the practice.

As legendary investor Warren Buffett once said: “The more you learn, the more you earn.”

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