Evolving Expectations for Accountants Means Changing Needs for Education & Training
PAO Development Committee | August 6, 2018 |
During the IFAC Professional Accountancy Organization (PAO) Development Committee meeting in Manila, Philippines in June 2018, committee members, many of whom have worked for or closely with PAOs and accountancy regulators at national, regional, and international levels, discussed the revised International Education Standards (IES) and public financial management. This article is based on their discussion and conclusions regarding the importance of PAOs addressing the demands for accountancy education in the private and public sector.
Mobility of accountancy professionals. Enhanced quality of services provided. Increased cooperation promoting the adoption of international standards and best practices. These are some of the benefits of mutual recognition agreements that enable accountancy professionals to work globally.
The same benefits apply when considering employment transitions within the same country and economy but different sectors—i.e., the public and private sectors. The capabilities and skills required of public sector accountancy professionals are generally the same as those in the private sector but their objectives, political context, and constraints are more varied. As PAOs work to address the changes in the revised 2015 IES requirements and adapt educational programming to emphasize learning outcomes and demonstrating skills, it will be increasingly important to consider the skills and competencies needed for the public sector as well.
Collaborating to Address Economic Demand
IFAC’s International Standards: 2017 Global Status Report found that 84% of PAOs share responsibility for creating and offering accountancy education programming. PAOs collaborate with other key stakeholders such as universities, employers, oversight bodies, government agencies or a combination, to provide accountancy education options. While recognizing that PAOs oftentimes do not control the entire supply chain of accountancy education, PAOs should play a role as trusted advisors regarding education standards, thereby highlighting their contribution to the quality and content of accountancy education and training.
One of the key challenges in implementing the revised IES is that there is low awareness amongst other stakeholders. The importance of advocating and engaging with these organizations cannot be overstated. For example, in countries where there is inconsistent university curricula, PAOs should partner with universities to collaborate on a “recognition” system for accountancy programs whereby both academics and PAOs are consulted. This could eventually transition into an accreditation program that ensures that the quality and content of syllabi and materials meet both market demands and international standards.
Another major challenge in implementing the revised IES is limited resources—human, technical, and financial—amongst PAOs and accountancy education providers. For instance, while the 2017 Global Status Report indicates that all PAOs offer continuing professional development (CPD) education, existing training is still largely based on obtaining a specified number of credit hours rather than demonstrating new skills and learning. A few PAOs have been able to adapt their training to place individuals in a business scenario with a mock client requiring them to answer questions, provide advice and apply their learned technical knowledge, instead of written responses or questionnaires at the end of workshops.
Moreover, current training may naturally place a greater emphasis on the private sector viewpoint by covering International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) rather than International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS). This can cause training to miss out on key aspects of public sector financial management, such as public policy setting, public-private partnerships, public debt, and specialized areas including compliance and performance audits.
In order to focus and maximize available resources when developing training programs or advocating for significant changes, it is essential that PAOs and stakeholders use market research on and input from both the private and public sector. Conducting or accessing GDP analyses, macroeconomic trends, public and private sector career paths and employee roles, and assessing current initial professional development and CPD offerings provide the necessary data on the skills and competencies needed for an array of employment opportunities. Furthermore, as a best governance practice, it is important that PAOs consider including public sector representatives within their education committee and/or within other governance components to further comprehend the needs of public sector employees.
Armed with market research and an understanding of market demands, PAOs are better equipped to assume their role as trusted advisors and advocates when communicating with education providers on the importance of developing educational programming that is more flexible, responsive, and relevant to all sectors. This does not necessarily mean promoting distinct qualifications for private and public sector accountants, but rather emphasizing the learning-outcome approaches whereby individuals must demonstrate competencies that allow them to work in any field and carry out their responsibilities appropriately, economically, efficiently, and effectively.
Several recent news stories highlight that public financial management and the accounting, advice, and decision making that contributes to these processes requires strengthening. Increased accountability, ethics, and integrity comes through greater professionalism and training. This in turn supports enhanced public financial management and, ultimately, economic growth and prosperity. By raising awareness on the revised IES and taking steps to incorporate learning-outcome and competency-based approaches into training to address private and public sector needs, PAOs have the opportunity to help accountancy professionals develop stronger, broader skill-sets that will enable the production of high-quality financial information, audits of this information, and the delivery of excellent financial services.