Liz Fisher, journalist

Building on ACCA’s 2021 report, Professional accountants at the heart of sustainable organisationswhich identified the core capabilities that professional accountants will need – a new report, Developing the skills of the sustainable business and finance professional, looks at what needs to happen to ensure these capabilities are developed successfully.

The new report addresses this question from the perspective of educators, learners and employers. It talks of ‘the educator’s problem that we should all care about’: since we have all experienced learning and development in one form or another, we should each have a view on the outcomes from learning because they can have an impact for generations to come.

Developing sustainable business and finance professionals is a collaborative exercise

One of the key questions that educators face, it points out, is how to develop the sustainable business and finance professional’s capabilities, particularly when many roles of the future are yet to be defined, and in circumstances where different roles may require different combinations of capabilities.

The report stresses that developing sustainable business and finance professionals is a collaborative exercise. Educators are having to respond to changing learning needs as the capabilities that professional accountants need become more varied.

However, the report points out that there is no single learning and development solution – and the expectation of longer working lives is increasing the lifelong learner population and the diversity of learning needs. ‘Learning ecosystems present a way forward to host and deliver a variety of learning and development interventions, creating flexibility for learners on when, how and what kind of learning happens,’ it concludes.

Employers are increasingly focused on social, emotional and advanced cognitive skills in reskilling efforts

The human touch

The report, which draws on engagement with more than 800 learners, employers and educators around the world, argues that professional accountants need specific human capabilities in order to be effective – see the table below.

Capabilities needed to be effective

Research by McKinsey corroborates ACCA's own findings and suggests that employers believe that some important skills – notably resilience, the ability to manage across cultures and a global mindset – are not widely available. It is also clear that employers themselves are increasingly focused on developing social, emotional and advanced cognitive skills in their reskilling efforts.

The embedding challenge

The report highlights the difficulty of incorporating development of key capabilities into traditional learning programmes. Developing uniquely human capabilities, such as relevance and reliability, are seen as crucial to being an effective professional accountant but are complex both to teach and to measure.

The report suggests potential next steps that could be taken to encourage development of these essential capabilities. These include greater collaboration between educators, HR functions and employers to define precise development needs and implement solutions.

‘Good development has learners, the workplace, communities as part of an integrated methodology’

One educator participant pointed out: ‘Learning must run alongside the continuous career journey. During the qualification process, we set the expectation that qualification is only the starting point of the learning journey.’

The report argues that a combination of approaches is needed to develop the right capabilities, and that work experience or simulations are essential to developing some key skills, especially expertise, collaboration and ethical behaviour.

‘The 70:20:10 learning model is very much alive,’ it says. ‘Good learning and development approaches all have learners, the workplace, communities as part of a varied and integrated methodology.’

70:20:10 learning

The report acknowledges that the education sector is dramatically transforming itself in response to the drivers of new learning trends and factors changing the education business model. Data-informed learning is ‘paving the way for continual improvement’, it says, at all stages of the education process, from design to evaluation.

Digital technology has also brought innovation to the way that learning and development is delivered. ‘This will become more than a learning and development hosting tool, for instance in the form of gamification, enabling learners to develop in realistic and sometimes extreme workplace simulations,’ it says.

The report identifies six ‘dimensions’ that underpin quality learning and development, which will leave educators well placed to manage risk and thrive in a fast-changing environment. But this is very much a team effort. The report stresses that educators should seek to co-create and co-deliver with employers, HR specialists, learners, trade associations and professional bodies. They need to share data and develop gap analysis to understand the skills required by organisations and the supply of skills available among learners, and then define and deliver interventions that will make a difference.

More information

See this video on the role of employers in helping develop skills

See this video about what good learning outcomes mean