Mandi Olivier, SAICA Senior Executive and head of Professional Development (Pre-Qualification), shares insights on the role accountants will play in the future and what they need to do to remain relevant, including a new approach to Continuous Professional Development.
If there is one thing COVID-19 has taught us, it is the need to be agile and able to adapt – making changes to plans more often than we may like! As professionals, we are expected to constantly learn, unlearn and relearn in order to stay relevant in a world that is changing at an exponential pace. Which is why Mandi Olivier, SAICA Senior Executive and head of Professional Development (Pre-Qualification), finds the revision of SAICA’s Continual Professional Development (CPD) policy particularly timeous.
‘For the past three years, SAICA has been researching what factors will impact the future role of accountants,’ she says. ‘In addition to identifying the future competencies (knowledge, skills, values and attitudes) required for accountants to remain relevant, our recent changes to the CPD policy reflect what our members need to do to reshape themselves for the future. Adopting an attitude of lifelong learning is going to be critical to surviving.’
‘SAICA’s research project CA2025 − named Pathways to Relevance for the post-qualification version of the new framework − is aimed at assisting our members and associates to prepare for their roles as they evolve (or completely change) in the future,’ explains Olivier. Research from CA2025 tells us that the role of accountants will change in many ways, namely in the way they need to think (integrated thinking), the way they work (more collaboratively and across all areas in and out of business), the tools they use to work (more effective use of technology) and the way they contribute more meaningfully to society. For this, CAs(SA) are going to need to embrace and develop new skills. Studies from the World Economic Forum and Singularity University show that skills such as emotional intelligence, complex problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, cognitive flexibility and people skills will become much more important, and this is just as applicable in the field of accounting.
‘We will survive,’ says Olivier. ‘But to do so, every member and associate needs to take responsibility for adapting and upskilling or reskilling themselves with competencies relevant to their role.’
The new competency framework
‘In this rapidly changing world, there is a need to prepare prospective accountants for jobs that don’t yet exist and also a need for existing accountants to reskill themselves for future roles,’ says Olivier.
With this in mind, there are five key changes in the new future-looking competency framework SAICA has developed:
- Increased emphasis on digital acumen
- Shift to focusing on creating sustainable value for a wide range of stakeholders
- Broader thinking in the application of ethics and citizenship
- Being able to apply integrated thinking
- Balancing the application of their technical knowledge (from strategy and risk management, through decision-making to reporting and compliance) with the development of professional values and skills and enabling competencies
‘With the above changes, we aim to develop CAs(SA) who are responsible leaders: who behave ethically and create sustainable value for a wide range of stakeholders within an organisation,’ says Olivier.
Pathways to relevance
SAICA started by defining competencies for entry-level CAs(SA). This framework has then been developed into a framework for use post-qualification – the Pathways to Relevance framework. The framework was developed to assist members in identifying which competencies they may need to develop for their chosen career path. This framework can be used by members to reflect on and document their learning and development needs.
‘The Pathways to Relevance framework is set out in a tool which defines pathways for 10 different career paths,’ explains Olivier. ‘For each career path, we have included existing and traditional roles, while envisioning what future roles may be included,’ she says.
Olivier gives Auditing and Assurance as an example. Traditional roles would include Audit and Assurance, External Audit, Internal Audit, Risk Management and Compliance, while future roles may include Machine Risk Manager, Environmental and Social Impact Auditor, Artificial Intelligence Auditor or Algorithm Bias Auditor. ‘These are jobs you may not have heard of but that are certainly coming to the fore,’ says Olivier.
‘To simplify the model, we have framed each career path (both traditional and future) for three levels in one’s career: entry-level, mid-level and senior management level,’ says Olivier.
Going one step further, the tool assigns proficiency values to the competencies within each career path and career stage. ‘This tool is a guideline and assists members to evaluate which competencies they need to master to ensure they remain relevant in the future. This way the tool also assists in identifying competencies needed for a change in career path’ says Olivier.
Objectives of the new CPD policy
‘The aim of the CPD policy is to encourage members to be self-directed lifelong learners after the formal qualification period is over. Through requiring the development of a reflective learning plan which is updated on a regular basis, it requires members to think critically about what competencies are needed for a specific role, to evaluate their current level of competence and through identifying competence gaps, undertake relevant learning and development through a variety of interventions in those specific areas,’ says Olivier. ‘Remember that this is not just about formal learning, although in some cases members choosing a specific path may very well continue with formal studies in these areas,’ she adds. ‘By being a professional and a member of SAICA, you are required to commit to remaining relevant for your role. The changing world around us demands CAs(SA) to do this by upskilling, reskilling and cross-skilling. It is no longer about remaining “technically up to date” by attending a tax or an accounting update. Future roles include progression upwards in the same career path, or changing career paths, but we also need to take into account the way the world around us is changing and what impact this may have on current roles.’
The policy encourages members to reflect on and undertake relevant CPD activities. ‘This is extremely important,’ says Olivier. ‘We all need to stop, pause, and take time out to think more critically about what it is we need to do from a learning and development perspective, to enhance our roles. An important part of this process is to consider how and when you learn as attending traditional workshops and seminars may not be the best way to further develop your skills.’
The policy therefore requires members to record and demonstrate their ability to be self-directed lifelong learners by documenting this in a reflective learning plan which is updated on a regular basis.
‘The new policy is much simpler, and one of our aims is to make it very clear what members’ obligations are,’ says Olivier.
Members are obliged to:
- Undertake relevant CPD activities annually, and on an ongoing basis.
- Follow an output-based measurement approach to CPD and generate an annual CPD reflective plan. [The Pathways to Relevance tool can guide you here.]
- Keep a record of your completed CPD reflective plan for the most recent three calendar years.
- Submit a CPD reflective plan to SAICA when required to do so, for SAICA’s monitoring process.
- Submit an annual declaration to SAICA reporting on your compliance with the CPD policy.
How the Reflective Learning Plan works
Many members ask what a reflective learning plan is. It is known by many different names including a Personal Development Plan. When it comes to creating your reflective learning plan, there is a template available on the dedicated CPD website, but Olivier stresses that you shouldn’t feel constrained by this template. ‘Rather use the following principles to create your own learning and development plan,’ she advises:
- Identify your current role and consider your future role(s).
- Determine what competencies the above roles require.
- Do a self-assessment against these competencies. Remember that you need to assess not only your knowledge but also your skills, attitudes and values.
- Identify your competency gaps and determine what the most appropriate learning and development intervention would be to bridge those gaps. Remember that there are many ways to learn and develop, which may or may not include a course or seminar.
- Reflect on the effectiveness of the learning intervention undertaken (did it assist in developing your competence?).
- Repeat the above process as and when necessary.
SAICA is obliged to monitor members’ compliance with the CPD policy. First and foremost, members are required to submit an annual declaration. ‘We have a dedicated new compliance unit who will follow up with you if you don’t submit your annual declaration,’ says Olivier. ‘Over the past two years SAICA has worked really hard to develop ways to help you declare your compliance, such as SMS reminders,’ says Olivier.
Further to the annual declaration, a sample of members will be selected annually to submit their reflective learning plans. ‘You only need to submit your reflective plan which sets out your planning and the relevant CPD activities you have undertaken if you are selected,’ explains Olivier.
SAICA will refer members who are non-compliant with the CPD policy to the Legal, Compliance and Discipline Department. You will not be compliant with the policy if you (1) do not submit your annual declaration in the required time period or (2) do not submit your reflective learning plan when requested to do so.
‘Learning and development should be self-motivated as this brings many benefits, and we like to focus on that, but unfortunately we do need to measure members’ adherence to the policy, too, as SAICA is required to report on its members’ commitment to lifelong learning for various recognition purposes,’ explains Olivier. ‘The by-laws have been amended (effective 1 June 2020), and one option for non-compliance will be an admission of guilt fine,’ she adds.
‘Ultimately, you as members need to take responsibility for your own development if you want to remain relevant in the future,’ explains Olivier. ‘Our aim is to give you the tools to be able to do so.’
The Pathways to Relevance tool can be accessed at http://capathways.co.za/