What is this ‘learning environment’ everybody is talking about?
This can be quite confusing: in most cases you walk into a training office as a young, impressionable trainee who is excited to be earning your first salary. You know you are about to embark on a journey to become a CA(SA), but you don’t really know what this entails. You go through an induction course and a lot of information goes over your head because you are just too excited and eager to get on with work and earn your salary. At some point during this induction course you catch a glimpse of a section focusing on the learning environment at a training office.
Fast forward to you being ‘on the ground’ and engaging with your colleagues. You hear everybody talking about performance bonuses and how those who are efficient, work quickly and do not need a lot of coaching end up being highly rated and receive large performance bonuses. You are baffled and confused as to whether you are here to learn and develop or to make money − in other words, earning large performance bonuses and promotions.
In my role as a project manager I have encountered trainees with contradicting views relating to their training environment. These can be summarised as follows:
Those who confuse a training contract with school and/or university
A number of trainees tend to believe that someone should hold their hand throughout the training contract and that they can make countless mistakes and their reviewers and managers should remain understanding and be patient at all times.
In some instances, trainees have not bridged the gap between university and/or high school to realise that although they are allowed to make mistakes, they should also be investing time in their work to ensure that the number of mistakes is limited. It’s not a case of ‘it’s fine; I can fail this year and repeat next year’: the working environment is largely different from school/university.
Those who are not familiar with the content of the training regulations
I have encountered trainees who informed me that they had not received any coaching at all and were allocated work without any guidance. My question to them is always: ‘Have you spoken up to let your seniors, managers, and/or training officers know?’
To my surprise, I have heard trainees say they did not know they could speak up: they were under the impression that they were supposed to learn by doing and struggling thorough the work as this is what they had studied for, or else it would impact their performance rating. I have also heard trainees say they were told by their seniors and managers that since they had a degree, they should know how to do the work. Most of them were baffled when I informed them that their training offices need to offer sufficient supervision and guidance and that they should receive the coaching they required. A trainee is not expected to be ‘perfect’ from the word go, and making mistakes is a part of learning and development.
Those in an ideal learning environment
On the positive side, a number of trainees find themselves in a good learning environment − an environment where they are encouraged to be vocal about needing coaching and/or guidance, receive the required guidance, and the review notes they get are constructive and contribute to their learning. Trainees understand that they will not be perfect and will make mistakes which they learn from and will not be punished financially for these mistakes.
Learning and development is quite important in the training contract environment. During this time you should be asking as many relevant questions as possible and equipping yourself with the necessary skills to tackle the world post articles. If you feel you cannot ask questions and grow, chances are you are not in a good learning environment and may need to express your concerns to your mentor, manager and/or training officer.
Ntsabadi Thsehla CA(SA), Project Manager: Training at SAICA