Upskilling articles

Lifelong learning is ongoing in every sense – it is the new courses and classes we might do from year to year but it is also the learning we take with us from one area of our lives to the next.

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Three Chartered Accountants talk to Accountancy Ireland about what worked and what didn’t in 2020, and the changes they have made to ensure success in both their work and personal lives in 2021. As we moved into 2021, so did the pandemic, lockdowns and working from home. Three members of Chartered Accountants Ireland – Larissa Feeney, CEO of Accountants Online; Maeve Hunt, Associate Director at Grant Thornton; and Kevin Nyhan, Credit Manager at AIB – describe what made their 2020 difficult, how they overcame those challenges, and what they hope to change this year. Goal-setting and disconnecting Larissa Feeney, founder and CEO of Accountant Online, has found that making realistic goals and not loading up her task list has kept her going during the pandemic. As a company, we were lucky when the pandemic hit as we were accustomed to remote working and automation, but adapting to working from home during a lockdown is challenging for everyone. I put a routine in place from early on: get up at 6.30am to do some reading, yoga and meditation before going for a walk. I am ready for work at 9am. If I keep to that routine consistently, it keeps me focused for the day and on an even keel.  Every Sunday evening, when I am relaxed, I set out all my weekly goals – both work and personal – and there is a great satisfaction to ticking those off during the week. At the start, I tried to motivate myself by putting lots of things on the list but that only served to make me feel stressed, overwhelmed and anxious, so I ensure the list is realistic and follows SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) principles. All my weekly goals contribute towards my monthly goals, my annual goals and my five-year goals. I know that I have higher energy in the early part of the week, so I take on the harder tasks during those days.  I have three children at home, so homeschooling means that you can’t give both home or work life 100%, but we are all doing our best. We have to go easy on ourselves and know that we cannot operate at the same level as before the pandemic, but we will get back to those levels one day.  To disconnect, I read in the evenings – but books that are good for the soul, rather than the business and leadership books I read in the mornings. Walking and getting out in the fresh air always helps. At home, a different person makes the lunch and the dinner every day and we take turns to pick a family movie to watch together.  Apart from ‘getting back to normal’, what I would like to change this year is the further evolution and development of the team and further investment in automation and innovation. Personally, I will continue to work on the home/business divide, which can always do with improvement. Stick with a routine in 2021  Maeve Hunt, Director of Audit and Assurance at  Grant Thornton, first thought the same day-to-day routine would get her down, but it has proved to be a winning habit.  When the pandemic hit last March, we scrambled to leave our offices and head home with monitors under the arm (quite literally) to enter this new way of working. For many, it was a balancing act of working at home in shifts and looking after children. For others, it was an isolating moment in time with no one sharing their working environment. What we needed was a new ‘routine’ of working. Is there a word that is more uninspiring and dull than ‘routine’?  It is a word we want to escape from. We want to travel the world and hide from routine, and seek exciting new opportunities. Can we be creative if we are in a routine?  If we have learned anything from the last year, it’s that routine may be dull, but it is familiar and dependable. A good routine has been key in order to live a somewhat enjoyable and productive working and personal life through the pandemic.  What worked for me was starting my working day earlier, taking an extended break in the middle of the day to ensure I homeschool my five-year-old and play with my two-year-old.  Inevitably, this meant working at night but I found that the shorter, focused periods of work I was completing actually made me more productive. That became a good motivator for me. What I found most challenging in that first lockdown period was how easy it was to go from day to day without talking to another member of my team. I quickly realised that the part I loved most about my job, and missed most during the health crisis, was collaboration.  Scheduling a daily chat with a member of the team has really helped with this. These social calls have helped me disconnect and give me energy for the rest of the working day.  So where do we go from here? There are many things I would change about the last year, but I think I’ve learned a lot about the importance of sticking to a routine that offers a bit of variety. It may not be the traditional working day in the office, but it is all about balance.  It is ensuring you disconnect in the day and take extended breaks. The beauty of working at home is the ability to get back time, cutting out commutes, inevitable down time and unproductive moments in the office. Use this time! Use it to clear your head, go for a walk, read a book, play with the kids. You will be all the more productive for it. A few tweaks to that dreaded routine, which we believe kills all imagination, might end up providing us with enthusiasm and energy for our daily life.   The importance of connections and disconnection  Kevin Nyhan, Credit Manager at AIB, has gone into 2021 wanting to reconnect with his colleagues and knowing the importance of leaving work behind at the end of the day. I was fortunate in that I had been able to work from home a few days each month before the COVID-19 crisis, so it wasn’t a completely new experience to me. However, there’s a big difference between doing it occasionally and working remotely on a permanent basis.  From the start, I’ve made sure to form and try to keep a daily routine, similar to what I did when I was in the office. I get up at the same time each day, try to start and finish at the same time, as well as taking breaks and lunch around the same as I would have done in the office. I have found that really helps to maintain some sort of difference between work and home.  Working on my own all day, I do miss the social interaction of work. At the start of the pandemic, like most, I tried group zoom calls and quizzes but, as we all know, it’s hard to have group discussions via video call. Instead, I now make the point of scheduling a short video call each week with a colleague or friend to have a coffee and a chat and that does help keep in touch with people. I’m fortunate to have a spare room to work from so I can close the door in the evening and try to leave work behind. However, it can be difficult to switch off when you’re just walking from one room to another at the end of the day. The commute between the office and home was useful to disconnect from work-mode and I do miss that break between home and work. I now take a short walk in the evening after I finish work. That 20 minutes really helps me to disconnect. Plus, my dog is delighted with all the walks he is getting these days.

Feb 09, 2021
Leadership and Management

Lifelong learning: different things to different people A simple Google of “Lifelong Learning” brings up a wide range of results which prove that as a term it encompasses more than education. It can mean personal development, professional development, social development and more. This same Googling brings up courses provided by organisations and events from universities to charities to festivals and any number of academic research articles. It is likely something we should all start paying more attention to. Lifelong learning is just that: for and throughout life. It is learning that is not time bound to a specific period of life and that can be taken up throughout our lives. While it has of course become the norm now that people take higher education at all stages of life, we often mentally categorise education and learning to be for our younger years in the development of our career paths. Higher education and lifelong learning sit under a different parasol, albeit on the same beach. We will still be learning new skills but they are not necessarily strictly linked to our career paths and aspirations. Hence you might see the mechanic taking a mooc (massive open online courses) in Mandarin; an engineer taking an evening class in economics or an accountant doing a crash course in Asian cuisine. Why bother?! In our busy lives, why would we be bothered filling our precious free time with extra effort and work? Well it seems that doing such “frivolous” activities can have perhaps more benefit to us even than our initial qualifications that we define ourselves by. Stand out to your employer Employers and perspective employers now want to see more evidence of emotional intelligence in the workplace. They are certainly interested in whether the job will get done, but if the employee is difficult to get along with, has a bad temper, or otherwise doesn’t fit in, it can become more costly in the long run. Being a team player, having a positive attitude and being socially engaged can be as sought after as all the letters after your name. Taking evening classes or further education can be evidence on a CV of this personality type. Within your career, taking on something out of your usual area can open your eyes to skills you did not know you had; if your job and home life have become a little mundane or routine, your evening class can become something to look forward to and very invigorating; you can create a niche for yourself in your current role or open up new opportunities; you can network and show your colleagues and managers that your personal development is important to you…if you are not willing to invest in yourself, why would anyone else? Future proof yourself The world of work is changing and changing fast. There is a vast range of areas that we can upskill on no matter what sector we're in: both tangible and intangible. While it is important to have soft skills in your armoury it is also vital when moving up and around in your career to keep on top of advances within your sector. Keep an eye on courses and developments that your colleagues, peers, competitors and managers are doing.  Mental and physical health benefits It has been proven that learning new skills – no matter what they are: card games, languages, crafts – can help stave off types of dementia and keep us mentally and physically healthier for longer. Social benefit With an ageing population, our older people are now becoming more and more of a voice demanding services in this area. Attending classes and courses creates social cohesion and an outlet for people who may be living alone after retirement. Benefits to your employer More and more importance is being placed by both staff and employers on all types of learning: on the job, in the classroom and informally. It has been linked with staff retention, higher individual and team morale, meeting of targets and goals and improved performance. Some employers have taken a novel approach to personal development by gifting staff money or course vouchers that can only be used for non-work pursuits from yoga to languages to art: the idea being that a happy worker is a productive worker and crucially someone who will stay with the organisation. Someone with diverse or unusual skills may be able to offer something unique to the team or the organisation. Intangible skills Taking on a course, be it a one-day CPD workshop, an evening class, a distance learning online course, a full diploma or degree teaches more than just the course content and curriculum. There are intangible, soft skills that you won’t get in any book, manual, website or seminar: time management, workload management, meeting deadlines, writing skills, organisational skills, not to mention the all-important resilience. If you have to juggle not just your job with study but parenting, caring for a relative, a hobby or voluntary work it can be very challenging and rewarding. Having done my own Masters online by distance learning I became an expert juggler: I fit in a demanding full-time job with unpredictable and often unsociable hours, a two-year Masters, parenting a one-year old, a couple of house moves, family health scares, wedding planning…I can now plan anything with military precision and see everything from a picnic in the park to a holiday as an opportunity to create a spreadsheet or a list at the very least. My family must hate me. The biggest gain of all… On the upside I have taken the confidence that I can do anything I set my mind to and undertaken more pursuits for myself since then. Whereas before I would have approached most things with the “I haven’t got time” attitude, now it’s more with the awareness of the old adage that “if you want something done, ask a busy person”. Since completing the MA I thought I didn’t have time to do, I have completed other recreational evening classes from yoga to swimming to oil painting to public speaking; I have upskilled on YouTube how to build a flat pack wardrobe without cursing (it can be done, I promise), how to bleed a radiator, how to knit; I have fundraised for a children’s charity and hopefully become of more benefit to my employers too. I have also met some lovely people and made new friends and contacts along the way. Lifelong learning is ongoing in every sense – it is the new courses and classes we might do from year to year but it is also the learning we take with us from one area of our lives to the next. It is always interesting to see where a seemingly odd and disparate mix of skills and learning can coincide to give an edge at interview or make you the perfect candidate for a job or project or even just an interesting person to talk to socially. Once you have the qualification, it can’t be taken away so get searching for your next pursuit. There is always time.  -Amy Dawson Amy is a member of the Specialist Qualifications team at Chartered Accountants Ireland. 

Apr 04, 2018

Amy Dawson shares the virtues of breaking out of your comfort zone When was the last time you did something a little bit different, a little bit off kilter from your usual routine, out of your comfort zone? I don’t know about you, but I have to confess that I basically do the same thing most days. My alarm clock goes off at the same time, I have one of about three breakfast options, I head out to work, usually do the same things on my lunch breaks, and I have a fairly limited evening and weekend repertoire from exercise to family time to visiting friends. Exciting, it may not be but that’s the point. I’m perfectly content in my comfortable routine. We all tend to perform well within our comfort zones. This is where everything is nice and steady, predictable, unchanging. Where we’re at our best is apparently just a smidgen outside of that. Why we should get out of our comfort zone Doing something outside this comfort zone creates what is apparently called the state of “optimum anxiety”. This means that we feel a little anxious and stressed, have a bit more adrenalin racing around. We’re a tad more observant, responsive, active, creative and productive than we might usually be. Going back to my first question: the last time you did something even a little out of your ordinary. Maybe you missed your bus stop and ended up in the wrong place, went on a different kind of holiday, started a new hobby? Chances are you noticed more and dare I say it, enjoyed it more and did better at it. Think of the endless celebrity dine-with-me and dance-with-me shows we’re subjected to. We’re always shocked at how good the boxer is at ballroom, how adept the scientist is at soufflé. They’re doing something totally new and alien to them; they’re concentrating and really trying. They are excelling in the novelty. We can’t exist like this all the time. Being in this state of constant anxiety, albeit low, is not a good thing. But erring to the wild side can be really positive. There are a few tips to harnessing your inner rebel. Do something new: volunteer with a charity, start an evening class, book a holiday to somewhere you have never been, take up a new activity or language – it doesn’t really matter what the change is but slot something into your existing life and soon it will merge into your comfort zone. Try to do this once or twice a year to keep you fresh. Just say yes: of course it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons but from time to time, don’t. Just say “yes” to that invite to the school reunion, the sports and social club’s weekend outing, the request to join the PTA. There’s probably very little to lose and if you don’t pre-emptively rule it out, you may surprise yourself at how much you enjoy it. Don’t try to be radical: you need not take on adventure sports…just do little things differently and relish the changes. Change how you commute or the route you take, change your evening routine…enjoy that feeling of the unknown for a while. Make change your new habit: if you can take on little changes, you will learn the positives of taking risks and hopefully accomplishing something new. And then…get back to normal Having said all that, it is important to point out how necessary it is to go back to the comfort zone regularly and exist here most of the time. This is where we find the headspace to process and make sense of our new experiences. Just don’t get too comfortable and stagnant there. It’s very easy to say you can’t take on that new work project or request for help from a friend. Be aware that saying “no” can lead you to at least appear or even become uninterested and inhibit your progression, be it personal, social or professional. The positive outcomes You will become more productive, more creative and rounded in your viewpoints and perspectives. Facing new scenarios will inevitably help you see and appreciate other peoples’ perspectives and approaches to problems. The old adage to “face your fears and do it anyway” can take you a long way. You will become braver, more adaptable; dealing with change will become easy for you. Change will be the new norm. Don’t confuse change with chaos and flux – it can be positive in small doses. Can we help? Maybe you are reading this and thinking of moving along in your career? It could be that you want to try a new area before committing to changing role, organisation or direction? We offer a wide range of CPD and Specialist Qualifications that might help you. We have CPD courses that can help with your leadership skills, confidence and communication skills and networking amongst many others. Any or all of these can cajole you out of that comfort zone. That’s not to mention our specialist qualifications in key in-demand areas like risk, taxation, strategic finance, corporate finance and IFRS. Give us a call today. We’ll be more than comfortable talking to you!

Mar 07, 2017