Continuing Education: Duty of Professionals

Certification is at the heart of many professionals. Even after earning an advanced degree, professionals often have to certify in their chosen field of expertise. For many, they may have to re-certify every so many years. This is true for some board certifications in the medical field. In other cases, continuing professional education (CPE or CE) credits are required. In either case, it is the duty of professionals to keep up with changes in their field of expertise.

For fields where recertification is a requirement, they can choose to keep up with changes between testing, or cram for the exam every so many years. In the case of professionals with a CPE requirement, there is really no way to verify that the person is up to date. It can be easy to get CPE credits without actually learning much of value. It's only when professionals realize the importance of CPE, that they will meet the purpose of CPE.

Making the most of CPE

There are several goals for continuing education, whether earned via on-line courses and testing, seminar attendance, or other self-study. They can be summarized as updates, expansions, and enhancements.

Professional Updates

In many fields update seminars are offered annually to address changes during the year. In taxation, that comes just prior to the tax season. In fields where there is no "season" that necessitates updates, it's important to remember that things change and technological advances are made, no matter how incremental.
In the accounting field there have been significant changes in taxation as well as financial accounting, and by extension, auditing. These changes not only include changes in tax laws, IRS regulations, FASB changes, or changes in SEC practices. Best practices in each field actually change from year to year.

Expanding Knowledge

Continuing education can also give professionals a structured opportunity to expand into other areas. Some "update" seminars are comprehensive enough to provide an introduction into that particular field. The one that comes to mind is an Oil and Gas Accounting update that's been presented locally. Even if you don't work or expect to expand into that area, have a working knowledge will help you advise a course of action or make an intelligent referral.

CPAs are naturally prone to need expansion. Most CPAs enter the field in tax, audit, financial, or government accounting, and often some subspecialty. In order to grow their career, they must learn to expand into a field tangent to their expertise. Expansion is also useful outside of strict accounting. Professionals that deal primarily with individual taxation can benefit, and benefit their clients, by expanding into financial planning. The number of potential specialties is unlimited.

Enhance Professional Value

Yet another benefit of continuing education is enhancing professional value. In line with expanding knowledge, professionals can use their knowledge to provide better service to their company and clients. This is the one area where they directly enhance their professional value. A profession should rarely be a dead-end job. The ability to grow within and beyond a field will foster an increase in their value.

Even when a course or seminar is practice management directed more to upper levels of the organizations, a professional can use that knowledge to find ways to benefit the company. Although they can't make the changes proposed, their insight could be instrumental to making viable suggestions for change and improvement.

More than CPE

Although professionals may easily meet CPE requirements, it is to the advantage of the individual, the company, and the profession itself to continue learning beyond CPE. A lot of CPE can be repetitive of things professionals already know, and often in more general terms than useful. There are several ways to update, expand, and enhance beyond CPE credits.

Read Books/e-Books

The first thing is to consider reading some comprehensive books on subjects that interest you. Many books are well organized, so you may not have to drudge through the whole thing and focus on the subjects that are most valuable.

Keeping Up With The News

Taking CPE every year to keep updated is not nearly effective as keeping up with changes as they occur. In the accounting field there are many trade periodicals and websites that help professionals keep up. The AICPA publishes several hard-copy and on-line publications that are informative, including The Tax Advisor and Journal of Accountancy. Accounting Today is also published for accounting professionals. and many of the articles in these and other publications are referred to in daily, weekly, or monthly e-mail newsletters. CPA Letter Daily, CPA Insider, and Accounting Today: Daily Edition are three that I read regularly. The AICPA website is also a valuable resource for information as is the state society and its publications and newsletters. For tax professionals, IRS e-newsletters are valuable for keeping up with decisions, proposals, and regulations. The only warning here is that you not get overloaded.

After you've followed changes throughout the year, when you do take the annual update CPE you have a frame of reference from which to consider new practices.

Research and Write

It's my belief, however, that there is no more better way to master a subject than researching, writing, and when possible, teaching in that subject area. Writing demands you examine every aspect and consider every detail. Teaching demands that you consider every objection or question possible and address them honestly. I suspect that is why that is one reason so important for faculty at recognized colleges and universities to research and publish.

On the Job

Finally, make it your job to be thorough with every task you are assigned. Experience that is not rote tends to add to your expertise in a subject. For me, volunteer work has been a useful source of knowledge. By practicing due diligence and researching every item that is a little vague, I am adding to my repertoire of skills that I can apply on other projects.

While CPE is the duty of many professionals, the real duty is to keep abreast of the changes in the profession in order to meet the expectations of clients, even in areas that they may not expect you to be knowledgeable. Being a professional is more than getting a qualification; it's a way of life. Their credentials say that they know a lot, but they need to continue to learn. It cements what they already know and enhances their ability to do even more.

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