More of our top skills development tips from 2021

Part two of our curated list of the best skills development advice that every finance professional should know from FM magazine articles published this year.

Rapid technological adoption and the pressures of the pandemic are forcing finance professionals to improve their skillsets and fast. The pace of change is accelerating, and finance and accounting professionals who want to keep up need to upskill with intention and focus.

To help, we have interviewed global experts across industries to gather advice on how finance professionals can pinpoint and develop essential skills that will enable them to remain successful in their careers.

Here are just a few skills development tips that stood out this year.

Try bite-sized, focused learning

Giancarlo Brotto, global education adviser for SMART Technologies and co-founder of Catalyst, a community for leaders looking to crowdsource solutions to education's biggest challenges, emphasised the importance of focused attention while learning, noting that even if you cannot control the delivery of the content, you can control how much time you spend on it.

"Many experts suggest that you do not try and jam in more than six or seven concepts at a time," he said. "On the flip side, I think time is a better variable. A person who spends half an hour or even 20 minutes every day, for five days, will know more than a person who spends the same amount of time studying in one sitting."

As you are learning, Brotto said, it is critical to keep activating your brain by using retrieval practice. "Pause every so often to jot down what you just learned," he said. "See if you can retrieve it."

Although you may think that simultaneously typing notes, underlining, or highlighting words while watching an instructional video or listening to a live instructor is effective, Brotto said the key to transferring new knowledge into long-term memory happens when you regularly pause to create small summaries or draw pictures to illustrate key concepts.

"Having conversations or, even better, engaging in debates around the new concept or topic is also a very effective way of keeping the learning active and making it stick," he said.

From "How to Turbo-Boost Your Upskilling With Active Learning", by Jessica Hubbard, 18 November 2021

Robot-proof yourself

Artificial intelligence (AI) is disrupting every industry, and finance is at the top of the list. The market for fintech AI is expected to grow almost 240% by 2026, according to a report by Mordor Intelligence. AI-driven improvement and automation will impact every financial service, including risk management and fraud prevention, insurance underwriting, investment advisory and wealth management, business intelligence analytics, and trading. The key is to learn how to stay relevant and indispensable by targeting the gaps left behind by the AI revolution.

But the easiest way to make yourself indispensable? Address the skills gap in your own workplace! A Barron's survey reports that almost 30% of finance executives do not believe their staff are ready to meet their company's demand for AI skills, and 60% plan to invest in professional development training to upskill their workforce.

Make the business case to roll out an AI learning initiative in your own organisation and volunteer yourself as project sponsor. You'll be able to add change management and organisational development to your résumé or CV while you're at it.

From "Easy Habits That Can Improve Your Career During a Stressful Time", by Anastasia Uglova, 10 May 2021

Follow a clear plan with feedback loops

As you're working with someone to improve a skill, Carla M. McCall, CPA, CGMA, managing partner of AAFCPAs, a CPA and consulting firm based in New England in the US, recommends building in "small wins" along the way, meaning clear checkpoints that demonstrate improvement and keep you motivated to continue. She added that you should make sure to gather feedback from your mentor or peer throughout the process, in case you need to make adjustments to your plan.

"Don't wait until the end," she said. "It's almost like an Agile process, where you're learning and doing along the way, so you can pivot. You don't want to get all the way to the end and realise you really didn't get that concept you learned back in week one."

From "6 Tips for Asking for Help Improving Professional Skills", by Hannah Pitstick, 17 November 2021

Pursue lifelong learning

Learning itself is a skill, and developing it is a critical driver of long-term career success. The key to staying relevant in a fast-changing world is to become an "intentional learner".

Set aside time each week to identify what investments (time and money) you want to make in your development.

Consume content (podcasts, books, webinars, online classes from Alison, Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, etc.) that will help you learn specific skills and fulfil continuing education and development requirements.

If you wish to grow, you need to be willing to disrupt yourself. Ask yourself, "How often do I do something outside of my comfort zone?" Being slightly uncomfortable can push us to achieve goals we never thought we could.

From "Career Development: How to Take Ownership", by Raju Venkataraman, FCMA, CGMA, 1 June 2021

Visualise positive outcomes

Julia Kerr Henkel, an executive coach based in South Africa, singled out procrastination as one of the major obstacles to strengthening and sustaining self-motivation and urged professionals to understand how this mental process works.

"When procrastinating, professionals tend to focus on the task they are avoiding. They imagine themselves doing the task, which often leads to a negative mental image and emotion, and since emotions drive behaviour, the risk of avoidance is heightened," she explained.

Yet, instead of focusing on the task or project itself, rather focus on the result — and more specifically, the feeling of pleasure and achievement that comes with completing the task. According to Kerr Henkel, by continually practising this simple but powerful technique, the shift in focus will soon become automatic.

"When visualising the positive outcome and sense of achievement, get specific and creative. Conjure certain physical sensations, visual elements, and sound effects in your mind's eye … and begin to notice how your willingness to take action shifts."

Repeat the process a few times at the beginning of your workday, and, in doing so, your brain will learn to automatically generate motivating images and positive associations around your work and goals, she noted.

From "4 Ways to Build the Self-Motivation That Can Boost Your Career", by Jessica Hubbard, 16 November 2021

Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek at