Learning professional and technical skills on the job

Studying for your AAT qualifications will equip you with a range of professional and technical finance skills, but there’s plenty more to learn in a role, as well as the chance to put into practice everything you’ve learnt in the classroom.

Gaining technical and professional skills during your early years as an accountant is important for your future career, says recruitment consultant Nicola Shellard of Morgan McKinley. “Mastering the on-the-job technical skills can be difficult and may be a slower process and more of a learning curve than improving your professional skills. Technical skills will not only help you in your studies, but will also ensure that your work is of high quality, which will be recognised by your manager and ultimately result in promotions and further job opportunities.”

To achieve full AAT membership status (MAAT) you need to complete five personal effectiveness competencies (communication skills, commitment to continuing professional development (CPD), behaving ethically, managing time and workload, teamwork) and one technical competence (select from audit, cost accounting, credit control, financial accounting, management accounting, payroll, taxation or teaching).

Providing evidence of these competences gained in the workplace is not only a cornerstone of the AAT qualifications, but integral to you becoming a respected, committed professional. Many firms throughout the UK offer AAT traineeships or work experience to students or those interested in pursuing a career in finance.

One such firm, MHA MacIntyre Hudson, which has offices throughout England, is committed to providing quality training programmes for its employees, understanding the long-lasting value this provides the business. “As well as attending college to study AAT qualifications, students will benefit from being in the office, working on clients’ accounts and discussions with their mentors and seniors to consolidate their skills,” says MacIntyre Hudson’s group HR & training coordinator Val Mitchell. “They will also attend internal courses roughly every six months, which are designed to supplement and enhance their technical and practical skills and their anti-money laundering (AML) and ethics training.”

In addition, MacIntyre Hudson supports CPD, which is essential in the accounting and finance profession, given the frequent regulatory changes, pace of technological change and legal and ethical obligations. CPD again proves professional commitment, while also ensuring you’re professionally and technically up to date, and therefore more valuable and employable.

“Following AAT, many students go on to ACA and qualify as a chartered accountant,” says Mitchell. “We have a complete programme of courses designed to take someone from junior to partner, so if somebody shows the inclination and ability to progress we will help them go as far as they can.”

Be proactive

Key to improving your technical and professional skills is being enthusiastic and motivated at work. Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals of your role, don’t be afraid to take on something more challenging, says Victoria Starr, senior manager at recruiters Page Personnel Finance, “this will push you out of your comfort zone, and you may just surprise yourself!”

Don’t hold back on asking for help and feedback, says Starr. “If you’re struggling with something or don’t understand, make sure you speak up and ask for it to be explained in a different way. Furthermore, learn from your mistakes – we are all human! Make sure you make a note of what went wrong, and think about how you can change this next time.”

Nicola Shellard of Morgan McKinley’s top tips on improving your technical and professional skills:

  1. Ask questions: No question is too silly. If you’re in doubt, ask someone for help. This will mean that you acquire new knowledge, while showing that you’re keen to learn and develop, which is never a bad thing.
  2. Volunteer for extra projects: Any additional projects that you can get involved in will increase your commercial awareness and will also look great on your CV.
  3. Keep up-to-date with industry knowledge: With auditing and accounting regulations changing frequently, it’s important to try and understand how this will affect your business and your client’s business. This may require you to sign up to an industry related websites, such as AAT Comment or Accountancy Age.
  4. Attend courses/networking events: If you have the opportunity to attend CPD or networking events, then do so, as these will provide you with a source of knowledge that you might not have access to in your day-to-day activities at work.

Photo: Sian Broughton MAAT, worked as an administrator for a small charity but wanted to expand her skillset so she studied AAT. She is now Chief Executive Office and Finance Manager for a charity.

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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