By Mark Cornell, market director – Western Europe and North America, ACCA
This week, we launch a new ad campaign called “Aspire to Lead”
With posters in London Underground stations (Holborn and Euston for example) and online, we’re shouting loud about the value of accountancy and finance professionals to business.
We have real accountants in the ads – yes, real ones – who have agreed to be the stars of a campaign that illustrates accountancy is a great career choice. They – and we – believe that training to be an accountant gives you the skills, knowledge and strategic insights to climb the career ladder in many sectors, in many countries.
The “skills” word has come up in the news a lot recently – from Barclays CEO Anthony Jenkins in the Sunday Times, to Travelodge’s Chief Executive Peter Gowers, and Dame Pauline Neville Jones from Business in the Community talking about skills on BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House recently.
These business leaders expressed concern about whether schools were equipping young people with the ‘life skills’ they need for employability. They said there are still basic gaps in literacy and numeracy and so young people seemingly lack the essential “skills of everyday life”. Gowers said he has to train apprentices and young staff on how to shake hands, and get eye contact. They were echoing Jenkins’ comments in the Sunday Times, where he said the UK is in danger of having a nation of awkward teens – unable to shake hands and get eye contact.
Helen Brand OBE, ACCA’s Chief Executive, wrote recently in City AM that the lack of soft skills can affect the bottom line, and that we need to see younger people as assets to business.
With the right training, development and mentoring – and perhaps a smattering of natural talent – young people can reach their aspirations to become confident leaders.
The leadership equation
Relevance is also part of this leadership equation. ACCA has always believed in providing a qualification that is relevant to today’s business market, providing accountants and finance leaders that the world needs.
This is why the ACCA Qualification not only covers the technical skills such as taxation and audit, but also management accounting and performance management. And there’s also a soft skills module which all ACCA members can now complete an optional professional skills module during their studies. This includes two modules – Communicating Effectively and also Working Relationships.
As a parent myself, perhaps we’re a bit too hard on youngsters – we’re expecting them to hit the working ground running; we tend to forget that these digital natives are ahead of the curve when it comes to exploiting technology, and this is a definite skills-set business needs.
I know from personal experience, starting as an apprenticeship with BT, just how important it is to not only learn the technical skills to do your job, but also to develop communication skills.
Starting at an apprenticeship level you have to prove you have the all-round ability to rise through the ranks and become a leader. Being a leader is about more than just knowing your job. It’s about being able to communicate effectively with everyone, regardless of their level. Being able to negotiate, being able to inspire confidence in those around you and motivate them.
Apprenticeships are a hugely important route in to the workforce and over the past decade we’ve seen a huge rise in the number of businesses offering apprentice-level training in finance. This has opened the profession up to talented individuals who may not be able to afford to go to university, or who are put off by the ever increasing amount of debt that today’s graduates are carrying. We believe that is a hugely positive thing. ACCA has always believed that becoming a finance professional is about ability and dedication, not ability to pay for a degree.
So for those aspiring to lead, what does the future hold? Previous research from ACCA and IMA called Future Pathways to Finance Leadership revealed that to get ahead, the CFO of the future needs to understand and handle risk, have strategic insights, be tech and data savvy, be prepared to be an excellent deal maker and possess excellent leadership skills, communication skills, strategic skills and change management skills. They need to be The Complete Package.
It’s clear our Aspire to Lead stars have these skills in abundance. They also prove that ACCA members are plying their knowledge and (soft) skills in every sector across most markets across the globe – from traditional accountancy practices, to the Big 4 to oil and gas to technology, to corporate and financial services and of course in the public sector.
I’d love to hear what you think about leadership and meeting aspirations. Leave your views in the comment section below this blog, and I hope you see our ads soon.