Seven steps to skills development - ideas for maximising your investment in people


Now is such an important time for finance teams to upskill; funding gaps, a reversal of the outsourcing trend and transformation initiatives all put investment in people high on the agenda.

Plus, as we identified in an earlier article discussing the “robustness curve” for local authorities, finance managers are already looking to plug gaps in many different areas: negotiation, contract management, commissioning, business case planning and financial management itself.

It can be hard to justify investment in training when budgets are constrained, time is limited and teams are under pressure to perform. So how do you ensure your efforts and resources are directed in the most effective way?

1. Analyse your training needs

What skills do you really need to develop? Your team may have one view, you could have another and external training suppliers may have their own agendas. So before you start, its good practice to get an objective assessment of what’s most appropriate for you. CIPFA’s training needs analysis starts by looking at the competencies that are most critical to your organisation, then looks at where skills are needed and where the gaps are. Beginning with this kind of exercise is also a valuable way to improve the return on any investment in skills development.

2. Pick the right metrics

According to McKinsey, while most organisations place a high priority on building capabilities, only 25 percent think that development programmes make a measurable difference. And less than one in ten actually track their ROI. You’ll inevitably be asked to justify any expenditure, so setting clear performance metrics before and after training – whether quantitative or qualitative – will help you to measure success and tune future programmes to be more effective.

3. Don’t neglect soft skills

Everyone appreciates the value of vocational training. After all, you can’t progress in a discipline like accountancy without specific qualifications and continuing professional development. But it’s often harder to justify investing in “soft skills” such as emotional intelligence, communication and teamwork. Yet these skills are widely sought after and often rated ahead of technical competence. ACCA reports a study showing that over half of CFOs would hire someone with fewer technical skills if their soft skills were stronger. These are the skills that help build the “robustness” that is so important to local authorities.

4. Build in commercial and digital skills

Whatever a training needs analysis reveals, commercial and digitisation/ use of technology skills are likely to be fundamental to your team’s future performance. These are the areas with the biggest skills gaps, according to an LGA survey; they are evolving fast, and both are fundamental to unlocking efficiency and performance. CIFPA’s range of commercial skills training is delivered around the country and can also be run in-house or online. While training in digital skills and knowledge is widely available in the commercial sector.

6. Go strategic

If appropriate to your organisation, finance business partnering has the combined benefits of placing finance departments at the heart of decision-making while ultimately improving overall performance. CIPFA’s Level 7 Certificate in Finance Business Partnering is one of our most popular courses.

7. Share the experience

Beyond the potential economies of scale, there could also be opportunities for a much richer learning experience if training and development is shared with other departments within your organisation or even peer teams at other organisations. Bringing people together who would not normally have the chance to discuss their working practices can have significant benefits, from identifying more efficient ways of working to fresh, innovative ideas. 

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