The ACA is not all about exams: get to know your online training file and make a habit of updating it regularly, says Senior Training and CPD Manager Nicola Mower.
1 Get to know it
The online training file is a mandatory part of your ACA training, so it’s important not to see it as just an admin or checkbox exercise. “The file is a complete record of all the ICAEW membership requirements – not just the exams – and the content is all designed to prepare you for the challenges you will face in your career as a chartered accountant,” explains Nicola Mower, Senior Training and CPD Manager at ICAEW. “When you engage with it properly and use it as intended, it’s a really powerful development tool.”
Depending on your employer, you will have between two and four sections of work-based requirements to complete. The online layout of your file will reflect the different areas of your training, with tabs for: practical work experience; professional development (for those who are following the ICAEW professional development programme); ethics and professional scepticism; exams; and audit where relevant. You can access your training file here from day one using your ICAEW credentials. Take the time to explore it and understand each section – you’ll find useful videos to each of the tabs here.
2 Make a plan
It’s important to set your own plan and agree it with your employer at the start of your training – try our handy milestone planner (you may need to adjust it to fit your timings if your training agreement is shorter or longer than three years). “Get your employer onboard early in the process: show them your file and what you need from them, and set clear milestones and review dates so that you know what you’re working towards,” advises Nicola. It is your responsibility to schedule review meetings with your Qualified Person Responsible for Training (QPRT), counsellor or principal at least every six months. “Like many appraisal processes, these are moving to more of an ongoing conversation, and it’s good to get into the habit of little and often – breaking it down into smaller chunks.”
The most efficient way to update your file is ‘live’ during your review meetings, or as soon as practically possible afterwards. “It’s much easier to update it at the time, otherwise you’ll forget what was said,” says Nicola. It’s also important to include everything that might be relevant, especially when it comes to recording the discursive elements. “We can’t tell that you’ve had discussions with your employer unless you tell us that you’ve had those discussions,” she adds.
Remember that ultimately your file will be reviewed by somebody who doesn’t know you, so always complete it accurately: use proper names and language, be relevant and specific with examples, and report feedback from your QPRT, counsellor or principal in their own words.
3 Prioritise the key areas
No matter where you train, the ethics requirement will form part of your training file. “Acting in the public interest is at the heart of everything a chartered accountant does,” says Nicola. “The discussion of ethics is so important now and will be so important for the rest of your career, so make that your absolute number one priority.” The ethics training comprises an online programme and assessment – but that’s only half the story. “You can never ‘pass’ ethics,” explains Nicola. “Those challenges will be ongoing throughout your career, and you need to be able to apply the ethical principles to any situation you may face.”
Ethics discussions should form part of your review meetings at least every six months, both the ICAEW Ethics in Practice scenarios you have prepared in advance, and ‘real-life’ examples you have come across in the workplace. “Ethics often comes down to judgement – so often there is no right or wrong answer – but the point is that you have explored the issues and discussed the possible responses,” explains Nicola. “And remember: the only way ICAEW can see that the discussions are happening is if you actually write them down in your file.”
If you work in audit, make sure you also complete the Audit Experience tab – the Audit Qualification is a prerequisite to becoming a Responsible Individual (known as the ‘engagement leader’ in many firms) one day. “Even if you’re not sure if audit is the place for you long term, claim your days anyway because if you don’t claim them during training, you won’t be able to claim them later,” advises Nicola. “You never know what lies ahead and the unexpected turns your career may take, so don’t let your hard work go to waste.”
4 Get into the habit of little and often
As a minimum, you should update your file online every six months – without evidence of regular updates, you may not be able to qualify. “Completing your online file every six months forms part of your training agreement and student regulations, and timely and regular review by your employer forms part of our quality checks for membership,” explains Nicola. “If we can’t see that you have updated your file every six months, you may not be invited to membership and your employer may receive a regulatory visit from our quality review team.”
Documenting your file regularly also breaks the requirements down into manageable chunks – ultimately making life easier for you. In between updates, make notes of any experiences, situations and scenarios relevant to your training (particularly in the areas of ethics and professional skills development) that you can discuss with your QPRT, counsellor or principal at your next review. “You won’t actually update the file until after you’ve had that meeting and those conversations, but it’s good practice to prepare for the update as you go along,” says Nicola.
5 Prepare for submission
Once your training agreement has come to an end, and after all the requirements have been completed and reviewed by your employer, you can submit your file for sign-off – you don’t have to wait until you’ve passed all your exams. (For those in audit, make sure this section undergoes a final review by your employer before you submit your overall file.)
“We look for ongoing progress in all sections of the file, not one or two, and evidence of little and often, not all at the end,” says Nicola. “We’ll also be looking for clear evidence of regular conversations on the ICAEW ethics scenarios throughout the whole of your training agreement.”
You don’t want anything to delay your membership, so double-check that everything is accurate and complete before you click that submit button.
Read our article on six-monthly reviews here, and get to know your online training file here.