If you're working in the fast-growing accounting field, you know that keeping up to date with new industry trends, best practices, and other developments is essential for continued success. And as a busy full-time worker, you know that your time is valuable, so you need training options that you can fit into your schedule.
Professional development is an important component of many jobs, but if you've never pursued it before, you might be asking yourself what effective accountancy training looks like. There are a number of different options available to accounting professionals interested in online accounting training, all with different goals and benefits.
Why Should Accounting Professionals Participate in Accounting Training Programs?
Even the most experienced accounting professionals can benefit from accounting training courses. The accounting field is complex and fast-changing - accountants must have a wide and varied skillset that touches many different facets of an organization's business operations. Furthermore, according to AccountingWEB, "accountants are playing a larger role in organizations today. Other departments across the enterprise are increasingly relying on accounting and finance professionals to provide strategic guidance and support on key business decisions. This, in turn, requires these individuals to expand their general business knowledge," as well as their knowledge in other areas beyond those traditionally seen as the domain of the accounting department. That means that training, professional development, and continuing education are all essential.
Accounting training programs can be high-level, covering general developments in the field, or they can be very specific, focusing on one area of specialization (for example, a specific program or technology, such as QuickBooks, or a subject area, such as mergers and acquisitions). That means that it can be beneficial for anyone who works in accounting, from professionals just entering the field and looking to hone certain skills to seasoned industry veterans who want to brush up on a skill they haven't used in a while or add a new area of expertise to their resume.
The Difference Between Accounting Training and Accounting Education
It's important to note that while training for accountants can take on many forms, there is a difference between accounting training and accounting education. While both can fall under the category of professional development - that is, the "process of improving and increasing capabilities of staff through access to education and training opportunities" - they are not the same thing.
Accounting training programs tend to be less formal than accounting education programs, though that is not always the case. Overall, training in accounting is less of a time commitment, often being confined to formats such as seminars, webinars, and conferences, which can range in length from an hour to several days. These can be delivered both online and onsite - for example, the American Institute of CPAs offers both in-person and online continuing professional education opportunities for accountants, in addition to over 60 conferences and workshops a year on accounting topics.
Other online accounting training options include the American Management Association, which offers a set of free online accounting training programs, or shorter, more specific classes on sites like Lynda.com and AccountingCoach.com.
For individuals who are simply looking for a quick refresher or a one-off deep-dive into a specific subject or skill area, these kinds of trainings might be right for you. Both have their benefits: online trainings are accessible and on-demand which, combined with the small time commitment involved, makes them relatively easy to fit into either your work day or free time. In-person trainings, while requiring more logistical planning in terms of travel and budget, give you the opportunity to network and engage with professionals in a dynamic environment.
It's important to note that many of these training programs have costs associated with them, with some of them being significant. Many employers offer some form of reimbursement for professional development activities, but it's good to keep cost in mind - especially if your organization has a small budget for these kinds of initiatives.
As mentioned above, while accounting training can be very valuable, it's not the same as pursuing an education in accounting. Accounting education is usually in the form of a degree or certificate program, either undergraduate or graduate.
Like accounting training programs, accounting degree or certificate programs can be very broad or very specific, and are applicable to professionals at all stages of their careers, whether they're looking to enter the accounting field or have been working in it for decades. If you're just starting out, a bachelor's degree in accounting or undergraduate certificate in accounting might be a good option to help you build a broad base of general accounting skills and competencies. If you've been working in the accounting field and want to sit for your CPA exam, you will want to consider pursuing a master's degree in the field. Or, if you are an accounting professional looking to deepen your accounting knowledge and gain an additional credential, a graduate certificate in accounting might be right for you.
Accounting degree or certificate programs hold quite a bit of weight in employers' eyes - having a degree in accounting is an important credential that will set you apart from your competition in hiring processes and promotion considerations, and is required for CPA licensure. While accounting training courses can be educational and help you build your skillset, degree programs are more rigorous and will have a much bigger impact on your career prospects.
However, it's important to note that because these programs are affiliated with higher education institutions, they will require a bit more planning on your part in order to participate. While most accounting training programs simply require a deposit, or perhaps an affiliation with a particular industry group, to enroll in an accounting degree program, you will need to complete a formal application, write one or more essays, access old transcripts from prior educational experiences, and fill out forms for financial aid.
You will also need to be conscious of the time commitment: degree and certificate programs will require, at a minimum, a semester's worth of work - and often significantly more than that. You can usually expect to spend between 10 and 15 hours per week on your coursework, and so it's important to think carefully about how you will carve that time out of your busy schedule. This is often easier with online accounting degree programs, because they allow you to attend classes and complete assignments on your own time, when it's convenient for you, whether that's before work or after your kids have gone to bed.
Additionally, degree programs can be expensive. While there are many options available to help you offset the cost, including federal financial aid and employer tuition reimbursement, you will still need to figure out how you are going to pay for your education. However, the cost of these programs is usually worth the investment, and results in both increased earning potential and more career opportunities.
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