Rethinking your education
Getting the bulk of your studies done early on in your career may not be the ideal structure for a modern accountant, with members finding success by taking a more flexible, lifelong approach to education.
Recognising the need to upgrade and refresh their skills has not been lost on accounting professionals, with many hitting the books again in a bid to stay relevant.
Academic institutions, too, have been quick to embrace this uptake, offering a wider breadth of courses through correspondence and cloud delivery to expand their geographical reach across the country.
But with myriad programmes and courses available in the market, how does one start sifting through and choosing the right option for themselves?
The case for further education
Deakin University associate dean Professor Barry Cooper points to the shifting landscape of the accounting industry as a prime motivator for professionals to upgrade.
“I think the public accountants that will survive in the future will be those who have the skills to have advisory roles for their clients rather than just a technical role,” Professor Cooper said.
“The move now towards cloud computing, towards the availability and use of big data, the importance of strategic planning, integrated reporting — all these tend to indicate that the skill set of accountants of the future will have to be much broader than what it is today.”
No longer being able to take their skills for granted, Professor Cooper says a strong way forward is to embrace lifelong learning.
“Whether it is back to university or whether it is short courses or professional courses, I think there is no question about the fact that you need to have a journey of lifelong learning as an accounting professional,” Professor Cooper said.
“I think it’s really important because the role of accounting has changed quite dramatically and there is no question.”
Likewise, Institute of Public Accountants executive general manager, Michael Linke, says the days of having one formal qualification to support the rest of your working life is probably over.
“You can’t expect information you gained before you started your career to keep you relevant, especially since the accounting profession is experiencing unprecedented change,” Mr Linke said.
“An approach which adopts a mindset of absorbing the latest in professional trends ensures we maintain a high level of commercial awareness and ensures that staying abreast of change becomes the norm, not the exception.
“Lifelong learning helps you remain equipped with valuable tools and information, helps you achieve a higher level of career advancement, and ensures you are seen as a critical source of knowledge and advice to those around you.”
Beyond a skill upgrade, Mr Linke says undertaking further education midway through your career allows you to take stock and reflect on your career direction, giving yourself time to ask critical questions to plan your future.
“Undertaking study at this stage allows you to fine-tune your career aspirations, showcases to your employer and those around you that you have strong ambition, and motivates you to become really, really good at what you do, and be seen as an expert in your field,” said Mr Linke.
“This is a great time to build your own personal brand, own it and develop experience, confidence and assurance – traits we often lack in our younger years when we first enter the world of work.
“This is the time to test the boundaries of your comfort zone. Are you in a career that you love? If the answer is no, don’t worry — it’s never too late to hit the reset button. It may seem scary now, but your future self will thank you for it.”
What are the incentives?
Recruitment firm Hays notes in its 2017 Salary Guide that the accounting industry is looking ripe for salary growth, with high demand for candidates with specific skills and experience.
Robert Half director for Victoria and Western Australia, Andrew Brushfield says distinguishing yourself with higher education can help secure a position and put you in the driving seat to command a higher salary.
“The higher up you go within an accounting structure, the more necessary it is to have further qualifications. Absolutely, you will have more money if you have those designations or those qualifications,” said Mr Brushfield.
“That being said, those qualifications alone don’t take you that far. They are very important don’t get me wrong, but personality, cultural fit, commercial nous, issue resolution ability, all of those are vitally important.
“There are examples of people who are super well-qualified but are not necessarily climbing the tree because they lack in other areas.”
IPA member David Collogan was in his 50s when he decided to jump on the chance to further his qualifications with a Master of Commerce, a move that paid off when he managed to attain his dream position as a general manager.
“I’m not saying it was easy by any means but I had to do it because I had to reset my goals,” explained Mr Collogan.
“It was part of my identity to stand out with these qualifications so I pushed myself into that area.
“There’s a saying that Madonna keeps on reinventing herself, I think you need to do that, particularly when you get older and once you’re in the workforce.”
Professor Cooper says Mr Collogan is not alone when it comes to mature-aged students returning to university.
He points to incentives such as being able to qualify for academic credits from work experience and the affordances of technology which allow professionals to study while working full-time.
“The good thing is you don’t have to start from scratch, you can actually broaden your skill base because a lot more universities are a lot more flexible now about giving credit for prior experience which I think is a good thing,” said Professor Cooper.
Additionally, Mr Linke believes mature-aged students are better placed to succeed at university due to their ability to focus on coursework beyond the social aspects of tertiary studies that plague their younger peers.
Studying alongside the younger generation also has its benefits, says Mr Linke, by allowing experienced professionals to draw on new ideas, and learn to collaborate with their future professional work colleagues.
“As an older student, chances are you’ve ‘been there and done that’ — and have the scars to show for it,” added Mr Linke.
“Having the ability to reflect and examine real life issues you’ve encountered throughout your career gives you the confidence and ability to look beyond a traditional textbook response and develop a real-life solution that has been previously tried and tested.”
What’s on the table?
The IPA recently announced changes to its flagship IPA Program, moving from a Master of Commerce (Public Accounting) to a fully-fledged Master of Business Administration (MBA).
IPA chief executive Andrew Conway said the move would ensure its members have a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
“The accounting profession continues to evolve and our members undertaking the IPA’s MBA professional program will be well placed to provide the essential advice their clients are seeking as their trusted advisers,” Mr Conway said.
“This innovative pathway provides due recognition of the quality and standing of Members (MIPA) and Fellows (FIPA) of the IPA by providing advanced standing based on verified professional experience.
“As the only Australian professional accounting body offering an MBA as its Professional Program, we believe our program raises the bar to meet the expectations of clients and businesses.”
Working in partnership with Deakin University, the new MBA professional program will be offered on CloudDeakin, an online learning platform that is “highly visual, media rich and interactive”.
“Our flagship program, the IPA Program, is highly unique in the fact that it focuses on subjects you wouldn’t immediately associate with traditional accounting programs,” Mr Linke said.
The six units to complete the IPA MBA include: Business Process Management; Strategy Capstone; People Management; Marketing Management; Principles of Leadership; and, an SME Advisory unit.
Apart from the MBA, accountants can also leverage on a variety of online and in-house classroom training sessions, and congresses and symposiums that offer CPD hours.
“Our events are delivered face to-face and online, ensuring our members are kept up-to-date and can expand their knowledge when and where it’s most convenient for them,” adds Mr Linke.
“Our members tell us it’s the sense of belonging that they value most, so we host networking events across Australia, from discussion and special interest groups to social drinks and formal dinners with keynote speakers – allowing our members to meet and build their networks with their peers from across a range of different industry sectors.”
Bookkeepers looking to further their studies can also upgrade their qualifications through the IPA’s popular Certificate IV in Accounting, Diploma of Accounting and Advanced Diploma of Accounting.
“For tax agents and BAS agents, we offer a unique online training program which guides this group through establishing and running a successful BAS/tax practice, showcasing key elements of business success, including the development of strong business plans, client engagement and retention, strategies for continual growth, and important regulatory and legislative requirements,” said Mr Linke.
“Our members tell us it’s our range and scope of academic offerings that they really value — and our mantra is to always ensure the education we provide here at the IPA is personal, practical and relevant.”