Perceptions and old habits are hard to break. In the CPA profession, training is associated with continuing professional education. However, in today's environment, training and learning are broader in scope for several reasons.Training reaches well beyond just the accountants and their CPE requirements. Yet firms still devote limited resources to training and learning while expecting employees to "get it on their own."

There are several reasons why the requirements for training and learning have grown over the past 20 years and are imperative today in firms of all sizes:

* The international firms no longer provide the training ground for the profession.

* The body of knowledge has exploded with diversified services and increased regulations.

* Technology has provided additional capacity and allowed processes to become more efficient. Many employees do not have the required information technology skills to compete efficiently.

* An increasingly diverse work force (in terms of both experiences and education) is utilized.

* Commoditization of many services (obsolescence, in some cases) has occurred.

Training is part of the professional journey. It needs to be embedded in what we do as firms and as a profession. Today's business environment calls for proactive, rather than reactive, training. Sadly, the reaction of many firm owners is that they don't have the time or can't afford to provide a training program.

For the last eight years, we have conducted a national training symposium with partners and learning directors from both large and smaller firms in attendance. These are the transformation agents of the profession. They understand the requirements, the resources, the plan and the economics of creating a training and learning culture. Many have fought battles within their own firms, but today their partners realize the importance and actively support the training and learning culture.

As with any firm problem, leadership is the key ingredient to developing and implementing a solution. It has taken these firms several years to conduct needs assessments, develop individual curriculums and classes, identify resources, conduct training, test for accountability, and measure results. The resources are available today, with many summarized in the recently published The Boomer Advantage: Guide to Training and Learning.

In 2000, the Gartner Group stated that, for every hour of training, five hours of increased capacity is obtained. According to our statistics for the past few years, firms are just over 50 percent chargeable (charge hours divided by total hours of all personnel), so the excuse that firms don't have time to train does not hold credibility.

In fact, firms with a training and learning culture are proving - through increased revenue per full-time-equivalent - that training is a great investment with significant financial and cultural returns. Administrative personnel and partners tend to benefit the most from technology and soft skills training. Training and learning are a two-way street. Good teachers make great learners, and vice versa.

The following economic model should help you to see the leverage and profitability of investing in a training and learning culture. If you have 50 people in your firm, and each teaches a one-hour session, that provides 50 hours of available training. If you assume 50 percent attendance at each session, that makes 25 hours of training attended per person. Multiply that by five, as the Gartner Group suggests, and you get a total increase in capacity of 125 hours per person. Now let's assume an average hourly rate of $110 - in that case, you should see an increase in revenue per person of $13,750.

To allow for the hours that your staff spent in training, let's assume that an hour there costs $40. At 25 hours, the cost amounts to $1,000, which still leaves a net increase in revenue per person of $12,750. And since all 50 people in your firm have participated, you're looking at a total increase in firm capacity of $637,500. I encourage you to use your own numbers and assumptions to personalize the model.

The interesting conclusions that can be drawn from this model are:

* The average 50-person firm probably has current revenue of approximately $6 million.

* The increased net revenue of $637,500 is approximately 11 percent of existing revenue.

* The $1,000 cost per employee is already in non-chargeable time, and there is probably no additional cost to the firm, resulting in another $50,000 of net income.

* Most of the increase will fall directly to net income before partners' salaries.

In order to develop a training and learning culture, a firm must have committed leadership, a professional educator in charge of the program, accountability and discipline. Training and learning must become a firm priority and part of the firm's strategic plan. Measurable goals, strategic initiatives, due dates and responsible parties must be assigned and held responsible.

It is further suggested that this be incorporated into the firm's compensation package as part of the Balanced Score Card approach. It takes time, but the reward in being able to attract and retain quality people makes it an excellent long-term investment that continues to produce a positive return on investment.

If you are still not convinced, what is the alternative?

L. Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.

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