This article was first published in the January 2019 UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

The changing nature of the profession and professional career paths means that accountants are having to develop their existing skills and learn new ones. But while professional accountants will need to take more responsibility for their own development, they also get the opportunity to take control of their careers, according to an ACCA review into the future of learning.

It has identified four key factors in workplace learning. First, with increasing automation, entry-level roles will inevitably change, and innovative ways will need to be found to fast-track individuals through experiences they will no longer gain on the job at the start of their careers.

Second, career expectations are changing, with shorter-term career steps and portfolio careers becoming the norm. People are also working for longer, generating a broader range of development needs throughout working lives.

Third, the first two factors are making professionals think differently about the work they do and look for more flexibility in their working lives. More are contracting on shorter-term projects as the opportunities differ and circumstances change. Individuals need to be able to demonstrate their skills are up to date, while employers need to be aware that the traditional career pathways no longer exist. A reappraisal is required of how relevant talent is developed.

Finally, the implication is that professionals are increasingly self-motivated in how they develop their career paths and address their learning needs. They rely more on professional bodies and themselves and no longer expect employers to deliver. Yet the fundamentals of how individuals learn are not changing. The importance of on-the-job experiences should not be forgotten.

There is a growing range of ways to undertake learning, but what is learned needs to be applied back in the workplace. Greater sophistication in choosing the right learning opportunities is also required: what is the performance outcome sought and how will it be achieved?

The implication for the learning and development community – and therefore for employers too – is to reflect the shift from being organisers of courses and structured programmes to being curators of content that is available when staff need it. Learning must become part of the corporate culture, embedded in an environment that supports development, values success and rewards contribution. And while not everybody wants to learn and grow, those who are comfortable with their current position and expertise still need to stay up to date.

Technology is playing an increasing role in delivering learning. From MOOCs (massive open online courses) to the use of virtual and augmented reality as learning tools, there is an evolution in capability. However, the learning community needs to address the reality that poor design can undermine the effectiveness of learning. It is also important not to ignore the role of traditional, face-to-face courses.

Guidance from those with more experience can be captured through mentoring programmes, but technology-driven transformation could reduce the number of middle-management roles that have been so important for mentoring and coaching.

The future of learning is one that professionals need to grasp for themselves. After all, it is your career.  

Clive Webb is ACCA’s senior professional insights manager.