Training Symposium: Top Ten Lessons Learned
by Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA (May
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.
- 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 firms
software "super users", CPE Directors, and documenting "best
practices" of the firms various departments.
- 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 firms
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.
- Working with Professional Staff. A key component in providing
training for professional staff is the use of the firms "super users" in
tax, audit and accounting. These people not only know the software intimately, but they
also know the firms 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.
- 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).
- 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
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 firms intranet, where this information is
regularly updated and accessible by all staff.
- 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 todays
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 firms 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.