The INCPAS Board of Directors identified lifelong learning as one of five key areas CPAs must excel at in order to maintain and strengthen the profession’s value now and in the future. We asked three INCPAS members from different disciplines to share their story and why they believe lifelong learning as a CPA is so important.
KENT WILLIAMS, CPA, BUSINESS PROFESSOR – INDIANA WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY
How would you describe your learning journey as a college student? Was it a “check the box” approach to learning? Could it be described as having a passion for learning new things? Maybe it was a combination of both.
Learning to become a CPA, to a certain extent, is a “check the box” process. What boxes do we have to check? One hundred fifty hours of college credits (except for some of us), business hour credits, accounting hour credits, internship, taking and passing the CPA exam, and two years of accounting experience. After we become a CPA, we check the CPE box every three years.
Did we learn through the process of checking the boxes? Absolutely! What did we learn? We gained accounting and business knowledge, we learned about our strengths and weaknesses, we learned that becoming a CPA requires perseverance, and so much more. Most of the learning that took place from the age of 18 through the time we became a CPA was the result of a very structured process. We can always find some fault with the process. However, it did provide a path we could follow knowing if we followed it to the end, it should result in success. In fact, if you are reading this article, as a member of the Indiana CPA Society, you did follow that path and have achieved a level of success.
What should be the approach to lifelong learning? The answer is, it depends upon requirements placed upon us by the profession, regulators, our goals and our dreams. What choices are you making regarding your learning? Are you choosing what is convenient or easy? Are you being strategic and intentional? The choices are not much different than when we were college students. We took the required courses for our major and the remaining courses were selected based upon what would be fun, easy, convenient, and in some cases, an intentional pursuit of new knowledge. As an educator, I observe students who choose all of the above. Is it okay to choose a learning experience that is easy, convenient or fun? Yes, why not? However, if we want to grow, parts of the learning journey will need to challenge us. It is the only way to reach our goals.
"We do learn through the 'check the box'
process—it's part of the journey. We also learn through the easy, fun and convenient experiences. And we grow and are challenged through the ambiguous, painful and frustrating learning experiences in life."
Recently, I had a student visit my office for advice. They were trying to decide on a course of action for their last two years of college and whether or not they should complete two majors or drop one. Part of the reason they were considering dropping one of the majors was because of a class that required students to complete projects that were uncomfortable, ambiguous, and for this student, frustrating. I reminded the student that based upon the goals they shared with me, part of the path to reach their goals would be to take courses and pursue learning experiences that would intentionally put them in uncomfortable, challenging and ambiguous situations. Why? Because the path to reach their goals will be filled with ambiguity, uncomfortable situations and frustrating moments.
College students, like most of us, do not like the feeling of failure during the learning process. As we all know, learning can be enjoyable. However, it can be uncomfortable, and in some cases painful. Some of those uncomfortable and painful learning experiences along the journey were a result of us trying something new. The lessons were invaluable. We grew personally and professionally. But during the process we may have faced fear. Fear is a powerful emotion. It can be fear of failure, fear of the untried, fear of the unknown and the fear of what others may think. Those uncomfortable and painful experiences of the past can keep us from putting ourselves in a position to learn and grow.
In 1983, I was approaching my junior year and needed a three-hour elective to fill my schedule. A class was offered on the pricing and planning system of the Soviet Union. I chose to take the class because I liked the professor, it sounded interesting and it was known to be fairly easy. The professor focused much of our attention on Ukraine. He discussed collective farms and how each Ukrainian was allowed to have a small portion of land on which they could grow food and keep for themselves. As the course progressed I found myself wanting to go to Ukraine and meet the people.
Fast forward to 2015. I was asked to travel to Ukraine to teach college-aged students. This was a dream come true. The topic I was asked to teach was Christian apologetics. Christian apologetics, in essence, is to provide answers with evidence to the questions regarding the Christian faith and the Bible.
Teaching through an interpreter on a topic I had never taught was challenging at best. It took six months to study and prepare on various topics such as creation, the resurrection of Christ and how the Bible was written. During the course, students asked deep questions. Did I experience apprehension and an element of fear? Yes, fear that I would not accurately teach such an important subject, and to be fully transparent, a fear that I would not appear competent. However, I tried to practice those things from my past learning journey and reject the fear. How did I do this? By studying more, anticipating questions and remembering a principle from the Bible which teaches that God does not give us a spirit of fear. This course was about the students and not about me. Words cannot express what I learned and how this experience, though not related to accounting, helped me grow both personally and professionally. I established new relationships and experienced open and honest conversations about difficult topics, as well as collaborated with and learned to teach through an interpreter.
We do learn through the “check the box” process—it’s part of the journey. We also learn through the easy, fun and convenient experiences. And we grow and are challenged through the ambiguous, painful and frustrating learning experiences in life. My advice is to enjoy the journey of lifelong learning!
JOHN P. KANE, CPA, CGMA, MANAGING MEMBER – J. P. KANE & CO., LLC
Each of us has been part of a CPE course where someone is reading the Wall Street Journal
or checking their email. Why are they in the class? They need the hours.
State CPA societies and other CPE providers typically see an influx of attendees late in the year—especially in the final year of the reporting cycle. Why? They need the hours.
These examples are NOT the purpose of the education requirement for professional licensing, no matter the profession.
For nearly 50 years, continuing professional education in the CPA profession has been measured by the number of hours logged in the classroom or webinar. But, there is a better approach where the participant must demonstrate a mastery of the subject material before advancing through or completing the course. The focus is on learning the material, engagement and participation, all of which requires a higher order of skills than listening to a lecturer while your posterior numbs over a two-hour period before that first break. This new approach encourages lifelong learning.
"Always having a willingness to learn allows you to be more responsive, which is essential in the CPA profession if we hope to thrive in an ever-changing business world."
We can be better professionals for those we have the privilege of serving if we continuously improve and master our skills. It is important to ensure that we, as CPAs, are prepared to meet challenges not only today but also in the future. We continue to see more complexity and specialization in the profession, so it is vital we determine the most efficient approach to enhance our skill set to meet these challenges, to best serve our clients and expand our roles.
We all learn in different ways and at a different pace. Some of us better retain information if we experience or do the activity. New learning formats allow us to take innovative approaches to the education process and learn at our own pace. Always having a willingness to learn allows you to be more responsive, which is essential in the CPA profession if we hope to thrive in an ever-changing business world. Developing new skills helps us do our job better, benefit our office and benefit our clients.
It is important for us to transform our profession and be open to new ways of learning. I am the managing member of a small firm, and I think it may be even more important as we strive to attract and retain quality young talent. We must be open to continuous professional development since the business and education environment is changing so quickly. This will result in more engaged CPAs who are in control of their own development, which means we will all benefit.
You may be thinking, what do you need to do? Be a leader: take a chance and experience a new education opportunity, and then encourage your colleagues to do the same.
One alternative education opportunity I took advantage of is serving on the INCPAS Ethics Committee. It satisfies the ethics requirement. Since I have been involved, I have learned much more about ethicsrelated issues than I would have sitting in a classroom. On the committee, I get to see real world issues and challenges my fellow professionals face.
Are you willing to take a chance and try something new? And more importantly, are you willing to help build a new education environment for fellow CPAs that fosters active engagement? Take the next step in your professional education and try a new learning format.
RACHAEL K. SMITH, CPA, ACCOUNTANT – WHITE LODGING SERVICES
As a young professional, I know it is extremely important to invest professionally and personally in my growth. I have spent six years in public accounting and four years in industry as a CPA. Within both roles, the importance of lifelong learning has remained constant.
After I graduated from college, my next goal was to take the CPA Exam. I passed all sections and finally got to add those three letters after my last name, but then I asked, what’s next? Of course as a CPA, the answer was CPE! However, I craved more than sitting in a class just to get credits.
I did not know where to get this desire for learning filled, so I asked for advice. A mentor directed me to our local chamber of commerce, and I found an opportunity to attend their leadership academy, which was my first growth opportunity after the CPA Exam.
"When I made the transition from public to private accounting, all of my investment in my growth helped me secure a new job because I showcased my ability to learn, change and
adapt in a new setting."
While at the academy, I was exposed to leadership concepts and new ways of thinking, as well as the importance of networking. Although I wasn’t in a leadership or management role, those skill sets challenged me to become a critical thinker, be innovative and push the traditional learning model.
After that, more opportunities arrived. I may be young, but I have learned and served in ways I could have never imagined. I got involved with INCPAS and participated in their Emerging Leader’s Alliance and Leadership Cabinet programs, where I learned from thought leaders in the profession, attended both technical classes and professional skills classes, shared my opinions, collaborated with others, wrote blogs and even taught CPE.
My involvement gave me a purpose and commitment to the CPA profession. It took my career from more than just a “job” and turned it into a lifelong profession. Learning new concepts and networking with others developed my professional judgment, analytical skills and emotional intelligence. I taught soft skills CPE courses in well-being and strengths-based leadership. I also taught these same concepts to my husband, friends and family. Developing my communications skills in addition to technical skills has helped me adapt in our ever-changing profession and world.
Since I was open to new learning opportunities, I became a better CPA. I committed myself to not get set in my ways, not get stale and most importantly to continue to learn all the time. Because of my desire to learn and grow, many volunteer opportunities have opened up for me in my community and church. I currently serve on my church’s campus leadership team—the skills I learned in the CPA profession have tremulously impacted my ability to lead within that group. Also, the problem solving, brainstorming and relationship management I do while serving at my church has trained me to deal with similar issues in the professional world. Every CPE class and volunteer experience has made me a better employee and individual. To grow is to thrive, both professionally and personally.
When I made the transition from public to private accounting, all of my investment in my growth helped me secure a new job because I showcased my ability to learn, change and adapt in a new setting. In our corporate accounting department, not everyone has a certification, so not everyone gets to attend continuing education. I am grateful to share what I learn with my department, often through lunch and learns on well-being and sessions on strengths-based leadership.
As a young professional, your only advocate is you. Push for opportunities to get involved and grow. Whether it’s continuing education classes or community service opportunities, lifelong learning can be found in many ways beyond traditional CPE. As the profession evolves, one of our biggest opportunities as CPAs is to change the hours education mindset to a mindset of lifelong learning—learning and improving through teaching, experience and service.