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How to Start a Learning & Development Department in Your Firm

Not long ago, creating a dedicated learning and development role in a CPA firm was unheard of. Most firms simply put someone in charge of tracking CPE hours, viewing it as a compliance exercise rather than a talent development strategy.

Where do you start if your firm recently elevated the role of learning and development and you're building the department from scratch?

With proper planning, management skills, support systems, and creative ideas, you can transform your firm from one with limited L&D resources into an engaging opportunity for everyone involved. So, let's explore how to create an effective L&D department that drives lasting results within a culture of continuous improvement.

Understand the profession

Understanding the accounting profession is a critical first step to successfully head up an L&D department firm.

CPA firms have unique needs—not just in terms of compliance but in the skills professionals need. Also, L&D efforts in a firm shouldn't focus solely on CPAs but on HR professionals, IT, admin and others.

Understanding the profession will enable you to communicate effectively and build credibility with the CPAs in your firm, leading to increased engagement and buy-in for your L&D initiatives.

Get clearly defined objectives

Work closely with partners or senior management to formulate clearly defined objectives for your L&D program. This collaboration ensures your efforts align with the firm's strategic plan and directly contribute to achieving the organizational goals.

This level of engagement from the top also promotes a culture of learning within the firm, demonstrating a commitment to continuous professional development that can motivate your entire team.

Assess the firm's unique needs

To build effective L&D programs, it's important to assess the existing skills gaps within the firm.

Many professionals may be highly technically skilled but need training in other areas, such as communication, leadership, consultative conversations, or project management. Others might need education for a particular niche. You can find these gaps with a comprehensive skills audit. A skills audit involves assessing the current abilities and qualifications of staff against the competencies required for their present roles and potential future positions within the firm.

There are several ways to carry out a skills audit. One approach is to assess skills as part of the performance appraisal process. Another approach is to conduct surveys or interviews, obtaining direct feedback from staff about their perceived skills gaps and training needs. It's also beneficial to involve managers in this process, as they're often aware of the skills their team members lack.

After gathering this information, analyze the data to get a clear picture of the skills lacking at individual and team levels. This will enable you to prioritize development areas and tailor your L&D programs accordingly.

Understand compliance

Understanding compliance is crucial to managing an L&D department, particularly when administering CPE credits. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) regulates how CPE credits are given out, and non-compliance with their rules can lead to serious consequences. Familiarize yourself with NASBA rules to ensure your firm's CPE credits are legitimate and avoid potential compliance issues.

Similarly, understanding their specific continuing education requirements is equally important if your firm offers continued education for professionals affiliated with other organizations such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) or the Project Management Institute (PMI). Each organization has its own set of rules and guidelines for continued learning.

Consider how to deliver learning & development content

Next, determine how you intend to provide L&D content to your team members.

Consider which formats best suit your firm's needs and people's learning styles. Options can range from traditional face-to-face training, online courses, and webinars to blended learning that combines various forms.

Once you've selected the appropriate delivery method, decide whether to build it internally or seek outside resources. This decision depends on several factors:

  1. Expertise. Do your team members have the capability to develop and deliver the required training content? If your firm lacks expertise in a particular subject area, bringing in external experts might be more beneficial.

  2. Time and resources. Creating high-quality L&D content requires a significant investment of time and resources. Outsourcing may be a more viable option if your firm cannot make this commitment.

  3. Customization. If the training needs are specific to your firm and require high customization, developing the content internally might be the best choice, as it allows for greater control over the material.

Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. It's common for firms to use a mix of both internal and external resources for their L&D programs, depending on the specific circumstances and requirements of each initiative.

Evaluate technology solutions

Leveraging software solutions can enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of your L&D programs, particularly in tracking CPE hours and building online learning modules.

Consider using a Learning Management System (LMS) that automatically tracks and logs CPE credits. Such software solutions save valuable administrative time and ensure accuracy and compliance with regulations. They can also issue automatic reminders to employees about upcoming deadlines or required credits, ensuring that professional development remains a priority.

An LMS can also be a valuable tool for building online learning content. These software solutions offer the ability to upload and deliver online courses. They may come with built-in tools for creating multimedia content, interactive quizzes, and discussion forums, fostering an engaging and interactive learning experience.

When choosing an LMS, consider factors such as ease of use, customization possibilities and integration with existing systems.

Gather metrics and iterate

Gathering metrics is a critical component in the evolution of your firm's L&D program. Metrics deliver valuable insights into the effectiveness of your training initiatives and the program's impact on firm performance.

For example, completion rates and quiz scores can signal whether the content was engaging and well-understood.

Metrics enable you to fine-tune your training initiatives' content, delivery method and pacing to meet your employees' needs and your firm's strategic goals.

Building a successful L&D department can be a cornerstone of growth and success for your firm. By understanding your goals, setting well-defined objectives, leveraging technology to deliver content that meets the firm's unique needs and tracking your results, you can create an internal culture of continuous learning that will give your team the tools they need to take your organization to the next level.


Are you ready to upskill your team and transform your firm?

The Boomer Learning & Development Circle is a peer group of learning and development professionals in the accounting profession who share tools and resources to properly support their firms' learning and development goals. Apply now to ensure you're focusing on the right skills, engaging learners and demonstrating value to other firm leaders.


As a Project Manager for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Jacqueline plans, executes and manages the people, resources and scope of many of our firm’s projects, programs and events. Her primary focus is on managing projects for IT Consulting, Strategic Planning and Talent Consulting. In addition, Jacqueline works closely with leadership to oversee the company’s human resources by managing hiring, onboarding, training and development and overseeing our Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS). She also supports our Allyship for Diversity commitment at BCI, which seeks to strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion within Boomer Consulting and the accounting profession. Jacqueline also works on the strategy and development of our eLearning initiatives.


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