How to Embrace Lifelong Learning for Your Accounting Career

By Cheri O'Neil on August 22, 2016 at 6:15pm

Whether you’re working in your first job in accounting or looking to move on from the position you’ve held for decades, your secret advantage is to never stop learning. Why? Because lifelong learning keeps your skills current.

By keeping abreast of the latest software, by securing in-demand certifications in your field, and by maintaining key relationships, you’ll make yourself more marketable and improve your odds for a productive future. You’ll stand out from your peers and be poised for career advancement. Lifelong learning is a win-win for all generations.

While many baby boomers are retiring, others like me are changing careers, launching businesses, acquiring in-demand skills and achieving success in second acts — all the while expecting to work longer than our parents and grandparents. Why?

1. We’re living longer — a lot longer

When do you plan to retire? London Business School professors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott — authors of the recent book, “The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity” — asked that very question of their students, adding, “If you live 100 years, save around 10 percent of your income and want to retire on 50 percent of your final salary, at what age will you be able to retire?” Their startling answer? Into your 80s.

The educators write about how we’ve been raised with the notion of a three-stage life, with a short period of education followed by entry into the work world and finishing with retirement. But over the years, there have been constant gains in life expectancy that show no signs of leveling off.

In this scenario of living to be centenarians, the second stage of employment — and the need for lifelong learning — is going to have to become much longer, or we’ll all have to make do with our dwindling nest eggs.

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2. The takeaway: Lifelong learning is an investment

Absent lifelong learning, some of the imaginable scenarios are sobering: Our skills could become obsolete, we could get really bored or laid off, the companies we work for could close, and our bodies or brains (or both) could give out.

All of this underscores the importance of lifelong learning. As Gratton and Scott write, “This will mean serious investment in later life as people learn new [specialties and skills], so as to adapt to a changing employment landscape and to mentally refresh and stimulate.”

Some of us think of our education as that thing we accomplished in our teens and 20s. Views about career development and work habits vary in our multigenerational workforce, but learning really should be viewed as an ongoing investment for all, like saving for a home, a child’s college education or retirement. There’s a dividend to be paid on education, no matter when you (or your offspring) get it.

3. Companies prefer avid learners

As it turns out, lifelong learning is recognized in the workplace as a top attribute for professional success. According to a survey by staffing firm Accountemps, 30 percent of CFOs polled said they deemed motivation to learn new skills as an essential quality for advancement. This was followed by interpersonal skills (27 percent) and ability to adapt easily to change (24 percent).

“Successful people never stop learning,” said Bill Driscoll, district president for Accountemps. “The world is changing quickly and constantly, and it's vital to stay informed of the latest trends and sought-after skills in your industry.”

See what CFOs say about learning and what it takes to be successful in the infographic, below.

4. We have so many ways to learn

Think of how workplaces, best practices and even job searches have changed in the years since your career began. Today, it’s essential to stay abreast of changes in technology, evolving accounting standards and trends affecting the profession.

Here are some ways to embrace lifelong learning, find purpose and advance your career:


What Does It Take to Be Successful infographic



CFOs were asked, “Which one of the following characteristics do you consider most necessary for an employee to succeed?”

2016 2002
Motivated to learn new skills 30% 27%
Strong interpersonal skills 27% 15%
Adapts easily to change 24% 35%
Welcomes increased responsibility 13% 13%
Willing to work long hours 7% 5%
Don’t know/no answer 5%

Source: 2016 Accountemps survey of more than 2,200 CFOs in the U.S.; 2002 survey of 1,400 CFOs in the U.S.

Responses may not total 100 percent due to rounding.

© 2016 Accountemps. A Robert Half Company. An Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/Disability/Veterans.

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