CPD: Continuing professional delusion?

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Soft skills: aka transferable skills, behavioural competencies, interpersonal, or people skills - they don’t sound very, well, serious, do they? asks Carol McLachlan.

Without the gravitas of achieving expert status in iXBRL, FRS or ISA, is it any wonder they come a poor second to our technical prowess? What self-respecting accountant is going to put their CPD investment into enhancing their social graces and honing their personal habits?

Soft skills“a sociological term relating to a person's EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterise relationships with other people” – a helpful lyrical waxing, courtesy of our friends at Wikipedia. 

It’s a conviction that runs deep. The innate dominance of technical competence over the softer stuff is firmly entrenched in the accountancy womb. When I sat my Thatcher-era PE2, I was examined on my proficiency in those old stalwarts Financial Management, Management Accounting and their equally heavy weight colleagues. Not too far away from the topics on today’s CCAB syllabi. Even in the 21st century, as accountants, we’d hardly be taking papers in emotional intelligence, communication or optimism, would we?

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About Carol McLachlan


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23rd Aug 2011 21:54

Spot on, Carol!

I have bemoaning the lack of decent soft skills CPD for years. Despite the CPD guidelines from all the major accountancy bodies, course providers have been very slow to come up with decent soft skills training. It took me years to find a good course on mindmapping, for example. Sadly, the lack of demand from our colleagues in the profession seems to mean that excellent training providers outside of the traditional tax and accounting CPD circuit have not been tempted to come and pitch for our business.

Maybe AccountingWEB could blaze a trail and promote a more rounded diet of CPD for the accountants of today and tomorrow?

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24th Aug 2011 11:59


I've been including "soft skills" on my CPD record since the ICAEW rules changed so I'm shocked to learn that others haven't.


For all those who haven't started it yet this training is available from non-accountancy training and coaching companies. They are general skills required in most businesses and not specific to accountants. You just need to work out how to apply it to your own practice/business.

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By jobrown
25th Aug 2011 11:17

The problem is..

Quite often, accountants (and other professions that are technical eg IT, legal) get promoted to management because they are technically very good...but being technically very good doesn't always mean being a good people manager....and that can often lead to a lot of unhappy people in the department. 

A colleague recently said to me she only needs technical CPD when I'd suggested a Building Trust in the Workplace webinar to her. She was adamant that she didn't need it and that her accountancy body would accept it as 'relevant' - well, if I'm honest she needs people skills WAY more than technical skills!

The guidance needs to come from the accountancy bodies that soft skills, people management etc is all relevant and an absolute necessity if you wish to aspire to management. The higher you go the more critical it is.

If anyone is interested, the Chartered Management Institute is a good place to start if you want to up your skills and profile in the management area.

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26th Aug 2011 18:33

Counting Poor Decisions

So into your synopsis - great piece - just started out on my DProf at Middlesex Univ where the issue of 'soft' skills is very much at the core of my research.

Having practiced as an Accountant I know the time spent worrying about 'historical' values of the clients Assets, etc., and the relatively lesser time spent considering the business's people - which, typically, makes up the largest unvalued 'Asset' of a business.

One statistic given to me by the Investment Market (2008) was that over 80% of businesses that fail in the UK fail because of the People part of those businesses - i.e. not the Product/Service, nor the Funding.

I wonder - what if Accountants had to include the 'soft' skills of a business when performing audits and producing client reports? Would that force CPD to be equally balanced between 'hard' and 'soft' skills!!

I am sure I will be back here during my research for my Doctorate but please do keep this conundrum open

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29th Aug 2011 00:06

Rebrand or learn alongside technical?


Thank you Carol - an interesting debate.

I've seen this from both sides of the fence undertaking my own CPD and also providing CPD to accountants.

I'm a great believer in "soft skills" and I've spent a decent proportion of my CPD time on these activities, including NLP training, which can greatly benefit accountants.

However, as a provider of CPD services to accountants for the last decade or so, I've rarely found accountants who are interested in "soft skill" courses under the soft skill label.

I have however, found many accountants are very interested in the professional development skills you mention such as communications, problem solving, relationships etc, just as long as they're not called "soft skills" or offered in isolation.

For example, "Professional development skills for the 21st Century Accountant" has been a very popular course as well as "Learning & memory skills required to survive as a modern accountant". I've found business simulations particularly effective in combining both technical and traditional "soft skills".

So "soft skills" rebranded can be popular and is especially effective offered alongside technical skills. This gives these essential skills a practical context and makes them more appealing to the nature of accountants.










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