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Student Insights

6 ways to master your professional development

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 28 Feb 2023

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Professional development is an essential element of your ACA training. Nicola Mower, Senior Training and CPD Manager at ICAEW, explains how to approach it.

Along with ethics, exams and practical work experience, professional development forms a cornerstone of the ACA training. 

“Professional development covers areas such as teamwork, communication and adding value – what are sometimes thought of as ‘soft’ skills,” explains Senior Training and CPD Manager Nicola Mower. “But this is essential professional expertise that goes hand in hand with the technical knowledge you’re learning. As an ICAEW Chartered Accountant, you’re expected to be a well-rounded professional – this is how you demonstrate that competence.” 

There are two ways of meeting the requirements: following the ICAEW professional development ladders, or your employer’s own accredited internal programme. Either way, you must complete your professional development within the training period, and ideally before you attempt the Advanced Level Case Study exam – you won’t be able to qualify without it. 

1 Climb the ladders

The ICAEW professional development framework comprises seven key areas, or ladders: Ethics and professionalism; Communication; Teamwork; Decision making; Problem solving; Adding value; and Technical competence. Within each ladder there are seven or eight steps or goals, gradually increasing in skill and complexity. 

“They’re intentionally called ladders because the rungs at the bottom establish your foundations and are all things that you start to develop early in the workplace,” Nicola explains. “The skills towards the top of each ladder, such as project management, involve using a combination of several of the foundation-level skills. Focus on the foundations first, and you are more likely to develop strong and well-rounded higher-level skills that will support you throughout your career.” 

Your progress up the ladders will be recorded in your online training file, and discussed with your Qualified Person Responsible for Training (QPRT), counsellor or principal at each six-monthly review meeting.

2 Keep track of examples

For each step in the ladders, you will need a specific example from your day-to-day work experience that demonstrates that skill. 

“If you’re doing something new that you haven’t done before, you’re very likely achieving another skill in the ladders,” says Nicola. Get into the habit of noting down examples as and when they happen, rather than waiting until just before your six-monthly review. “If you’ve just finished a new project or client, or overcome a particular challenge, write it down while it’s still fresh in your mind.” 

You should be prepared to come to your six-monthly review with eight or nine examples ready to discuss with your QPRT, counsellor or principal. “And remember that good enough is good enough,” adds Nicola. “A lot of students think ICAEW wants the best example and that they should wait to do something better down the line, but it’s not about that. We want an example that shows competence, and that’s it.”

3 Record them properly

During, or soon after, your six-monthly review, you’ll log your agreed examples within the professional development tab of your online training file. Remember to document them so that somebody who doesn’t know you can clearly understand them, and the context behind what you’ve written – this is a formal document that will ultimately be reviewed by ICAEW before you qualify. “Write up each example properly – but succinctly – using the STAR method,” advises Nicola. Briefly describe the Situation (set the scene), the Task (what you needed to do and why), the Action (the steps you took) and the Result (the positive outcome). You will also need to include feedback from your QPRT, counsellor or principal alongside each example, which should be discussed and agreed during your review meeting. Find an example of the first four steps in the ‘Adding value’ goal here.

4 Seek out opportunities

At the end of each six-monthly review, you should be able to clearly see your progress up the ladders – and where any gaps are. 

“Remember that you are responsible for your training, so be proactive,” says Nicola. “Once you’ve identified those gaps, go out and look for opportunities to fill them. This might be an official secondment to another team, or simply volunteering to help with a different project or client.” 

Think, too, about where you want to be in the future – is there an area you’re particularly interested in that you could go and get more experience in? Could you identify a mentor and ask for their help? Make use of the ICAEW resources and support available to plug any skills gaps, too: each of the ICAEW Faculties and Communities offers a varied programme of events and webinars. Or find out more about the free support available for students here.

5 Meet the apprenticeship requirements

If you’re studying as a Level 7 apprentice, the professional development element of the ACA training is separate from the Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours requirement of your apprenticeship – but the examples you document can help you to achieve both. 

“While you need to complete them separately, you’ll probably find some overlap,” explains Nicola. “You might be able to use some of the examples from the ladders in the Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours review with your training provider, or you might be able to use something that comes up in conversation with your training provider in your online training file. Bear in mind, though, that the feedback element must come from the QPRT, counsellor or principal at your employer.”

6 Keep learning

Professional development doesn’t stop when you’ve filled in every box on the training file, or when you qualify – Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is something that all ICAEW members do each year. 

“CPD is essential in a career where technology, regulations and client needs are evolving all the time,” says Nicola. “You should always be striving to progress, and to learn – that’s something that’s expected of you as an ICAEW Chartered Accountant. When somebody sees the letters ACA after a name, they can be confident that person has the core foundation of real experience, professional skill and ethical awareness to really bring value to a business.” 

Find out more about CPD requirements and the resources available to help you meet them here.

Access more guidance on the professional development element of the ACA qualification.

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