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Training Symposium: Top Ten Lessons Learned
by Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA (May 10, 1999)

TS2: A Training Symposium for CPA Firm Training Coordinators was held in Chicago on May 5, 1999 to share and expand on the ways that CPA Firms can become "learning organizations." InfoTech Partners North America, Inc. had the privilege of facilitating the discussions of 17 training coordinators Below are the Top Ten issues discussed and the lessons learned in each.

  1. Determining the Roles, Duties and Career Paths of the Training Position. Each firm with a coordinator had a very difficult time writing the first job description as they were not sure how the time would be filled. But in every instance, the position expanded to well beyond full-time capacity. In addition to being closely involved in the orientation of new hires, and training staff on the basics, the coordinators were also heavily involved in acting as a liaison with technical support, the firm’s software "super users", CPE Directors, and documenting "best practices" of the firm’s various departments.
  2. Developing a Training Curriculum. Most firms had a comprehensive training program that included an orientation that lasted between two days and two weeks, before accountants went "live." The first year included learning the firm’s email, calendar, timesheet entry, word processing, spreadsheet, and introductions to their specific part of the practice (tax, audit, or accounting). In addition, experienced coordinators discussed the need to expand the curriculum in later years for the advanced courses that were arranged in conjunction with "super users" going to vendor training. These sessions were more customized, shorter, and usually done in smaller groups with specific client service examples.
  3. Working with Professional Staff. A key component in providing training for professional staff is the use of the firm’s "super users" in tax, audit and accounting. These people not only know the software intimately, but they also know the firm’s processes and procedures. The training coordinator should schedule training JIT (just in time) before it is needed, and make it easy for staff instructors by managing the administration (CPE tracking, registration, evaluations and logistics: room setup and snacks). This allows the professionals to focus specifically on teaching the class.
  4. Use of Training Tools. Most firms use group classroom training as new software programs were brought in, but switched to CBTs (Computer Based Tutorials) for new hires later on. The majority of the training coordinators used CBTs, but customized the required lessons for their accountants. (For instance, only making new hires go through lessons 1,2,3, 5, and 8 of a Windows98 CBT and then explaining the firms network file structure one-on-one with Windows Explorer).
  5. Helpdesk and Network Support Functions. In virtually every firm, the training coordinator is involved in the helpdesk function to the extent that they monitor the types of problems end-users are facing. In many instances, problems are caused by lack of understanding and not hardware glitches. The training coordinator can document problems due to inadequate training and provide specific guidance to end-users in solving the problems.
  6. Best Training Resources. Many of the training coordinators used CBTs from Personal Training Systems (www.ptsls.com), CBT Systems (www.cbtsys.com), InfoSource Inc. (www.infosourcenet.com), and Viagrafix (www.viagrafix.com). In addition, web-based tutorials from Ziff Davis University (www.zdu.com) were being used, as well as programs directly from their tax or accounting software vendor sites. Most of the coordinators also read magazines like Training and Development Magazine (www.astd.org) and Inside Technology Training (www.ittrain.com).
  7. How to Evaluate Training. To evaluate the effectiveness of training, many firms started by developing a needs assessment to see which courses were needed. Some then provided a pre-test to those taking a course (especially in CBT courses), so accountants would know what was to be covered and to highlight areas of weakness. The post-test then confirmed they had learned the necessary lessons and would take them back to the courseware for areas that were missed.
  8. Providing External Training or Facilities. Most firms found it difficult to compete with outside training organizations on basic word processing or spreadsheet courses, so many only offered customized or specialized classes. Courses such as "Excel for Financial Managers" or teaching clients how to use accounting software (such as Great Plains) could demand higher fees. Also, many firms found that they could effectively rent out their training rooms to clients for $500-$1,500 a day, providing some training revenue.
  9. Developing a Training "Knowledgebase." Every firm needs to document "best practices" on how they use their tax, audit and accounting programs. Many training coordinators document this information in the format of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) or in the firm’s intranet, where this information is regularly updated and accessible by all staff.
  10. Tracking CPE Requirements. Tracking registration, hours and evaluations is a necessary evil in the CPA firm environment. The easiest place to manage these hours is within your time sheet, which is now a standard feature in today’s high-end windows-based practice management programs. (Other coordinators used dedicated systems such as Gleim or PETS to provide the reports).

Training is a critical component in every firm’s overall technology strategy. Use this list to expand the training position in your firm and to help you improve the way training is provided and managed.

InfoTech Partners North America, Inc....your technology partner  (480) 706-1728
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