Ongoing professional development is not an extracurricular activity; it is integral to ensuring auditor competency and a requirement for auditing in accordance with The IIA's Code of Ethics. Beyond that, professional development plays an increasingly important role in recruiting and retaining talent that can meet the future needs of the audit function.
According to The IIA's 2018 North American Pulse of Internal Audit report, "CAEs will not be able to hire their way out of [the] skills shortage. … CAEs that develop talent continuously and consistently can identify gaps, strengths, and weaknesses in the internal audit activity." The report adds that internal audit functions that make provisions for career development programs will not only help themselves in terms of skills inventory, they will have an advantage in talent recruitment, development, and retention as well.
While each auditor must take responsibility for his or her own professional development, audit managers can play a key role in ensuring the department receives the most value from these efforts and gives staff members the best chance for success. They can accomplish this by planning a coordinated approach to staff professional development, managing the development budget effectively, and cultivating a supportive culture that challenges individuals and rewards them for their efforts.
A Coordinated Effort
According to the 2018 Pulse report, "Professional development plans with specific annual targets and provisions for training help to ensure a high level of collective proficiency for the internal audit activity." Although resources are available to help with planning, such as The IIA's Global Internal Audit Competency Framework, each audit manager must document skills versus needs specific to his or her own organization.
Planning for certifications and training can follow a two-pronged approach: On one side, audit managers should assess the skills and knowledge the department needs to fulfill its mission; on the other, they should consider the training and development progression of individual employees. This exercise should reveal clues as to where to focus staff training efforts, helping answer questions such as:
- Where are there gaps? ("We need someone with the Certification in Risk Management Assurance and we don't have one; who would be the best person to pursue that?")
- How should the talent pipeline be organized? ("We are going to need another Certified Internal Auditor on staff within the next year; should we train or hire?")
- Where is there overlap? ("We have three people all working on the Certification in Control Self-Assessment; let's spread out.")
- Where do resources need to be deployed? ("We have a senior person with a lot of certifications; let's have her focus on publishing and presenting so we can devote study, application, and exam resources to lower level employees.")
To manage development efforts effectively, audit managers need to determine what kind of training employees want and then balance that input against the department's skill-related needs and budget. A brief, periodic email survey can be an effective tool for staying up to date on the teamwide training picture. For example, audit managers could ask:
- What are you working on now?
- In the past three months, have you earned a certification, published something, given a presentation, taken on a board/committee/volunteer role, or done something else that we need to recognize and celebrate?
- Do you know what the next step is in your training/development plan?
- Are there any impediments —such as lack of funds, time, or training materials — hindering progress on your training/development plan?
Job interviews, the onboarding process, performance reviews, and informal meetings also represent excellent opportunities to gauge what is important to employees, what they want to accomplish in their careers, and what types of training might help them meet those goals. Employees are more likely to remain committed to earning a certification if they believe they are helping both the team and themselves — that they are working toward bettering their future, rather than simply completing an assignment.
Manage Costs and Stretch Resources
According to Section 3.2 of The IIA’s CPE policy, in addition to formal educational programs, certified individuals may obtain CPE through a variety of qualifying activities, including:
- Passing examinations.
- Authoring or contributing to publications.
- Translating publications.
- Delivering oral presentations.
- Participating as a subject matter expert volunteer.
- Performing external quality assessments.
- Taking Internal Auditor magazine’s
Training and development can get expensive, but the audit department can make the best use of its professional development budget by taking advantage of cost-saving opportunities and by broadening its scope of learning activities.
Professional development is sometimes used as a blanket term for passing certifications and maintaining them by earning continuing professional education (CPE) credits. Attending live seminars and purchasing online self-study courses are two of the most common ways auditors earn those CPEs. In addition to these methods, auditors can avail themselves of several other professional development resources.
First and foremost, auditors can take advantage of any free training and CPEs that align with their plan. For example, some professional organizations offer free webinars, and those free CPEs can add up to concrete savings by the end of the year.
Staff members also could volunteer to serve on an IIA committee, write for an industry publication, or conduct training courses and seminars. These are not only inexpensive ways to meet CPE requirements, they also serve as an effective means to promote continuing education and professional development above and beyond certification.
In addition to these approaches, audit managers can draw from a host of alternative resources and techniques. Each can be leveraged for training efficiency and cost savings.
Interdepartmental Learning Audit managers should consider sources for training from within their own company. Subject matter experts from other departments inside the organization can provide training on new technologies, business processes, etc., enabling audit staff members to better understand the business areas they audit. While internal training may or may not qualify for CPE, enhanced knowledge of the business will help improve auditors' confidence and enable them to offer more meaningful recommendations — making this highly valuable, and economical, training.
Intradepartmental Learning Managers can harness their own staff resources for budget-friendly training. For example, a staff auditor could be assigned to read a book from the Internal Audit Foundation and give a presentation to the team summarizing the book's content and its implications for the work internal audit does. This exercise not only adds new knowledge to the group, it also provides valuable public speaking experience and leadership training for the staff member — all at the mere cost of a book. Audit staff can also be a valuable source of experiential training. This is something the audit manager should consider as part of the overall professional development plan because certifications typically require some form of prerequisite experience. Job shadowing and working with more experienced auditors on a variety of engagement types can help auditors gain the experience they need to qualify for certifications.
Handing Down Knowledge Teamwork and collaboration also can help the audit department stretch its professional development budget. Mentoring, for example, can make the certification process more efficient. Auditors who have earned a particular certification can coach others seeking that certification, offering tips for taking the exam as well as advice on how to plan study time, how to navigate the application process, and which study materials are the most valuable (and least valuable). Passing down lessons learned like these can add up to large time savings, as opposed to having each new candidate begin the certification process from scratch.
Discounts and Group Savings Some organizations offer discounts on certification applications and exams at certain times of the year. The audit manager should incorporate these into the training plan so that auditors are working toward taking exams when they are the most affordable.
Auditors also can coordinate and save with group training opportunities, rather than having each staff member individually pursue certification and CPE. The IIA, for example, offers opportunities to obtain group savings on training courses. For events held by a local chapter, audit managers should always ask if a discount is available for group sign-up. Plus, some local chapters have funds available to provide assistance to members with costs such as conference travel and expenses as well as application and exam fees.
Training Library Finally, audit managers should consider creating a training library. The library can take on various forms (paper, digital, or both), and it should be available to any staff member seeking certification or training. This is the best way to economize the purchase of materials. Team members should not each buy the same training manual when they can plan ahead to stagger their study efforts and share purchased content.
A Supportive Culture
Even though professional development is vital to an effective audit function, auditors can easily get caught up in their day-to-day work and relegate development to the cracks in their busy schedules. Audit managers can take several steps to help staff members resist this inclination.
First, managers should devote actual work time and resources to professional development. As the 2018 Pulse report states, a supportive culture for professional development is critical. Successful audit leaders not only preach professional development and certification, they back it up with the support of work hours and funding.
Designating a professional development champion, in addition to the CAE, also can be helpful. The champion can assist the CAE with highlighting training opportunities, making sure team members who earn certifications are recognized, and connecting those seeking certifications with mentors who have already earned them. He or she also should be well-connected in the industry and thereby attuned to development opportunities, such as a chance for a junior auditor to volunteer on a committee, get a first speaking experience, or publish a first article.
Finally, the CAE and champion should work together to come up with ways to publicly recognize staff members for their professional development accomplishments. For example, whenever someone earns a certification, the champion could display the certificate in the office, ensure that it is mentioned in the department newsletter, and update the employee's business cards with his or her new designation. Whatever the method, accomplishments should be highlighted in some visible, lasting way. Recognition can be a powerful motivator, as it demonstrates to the individual that the department (and the audit leader) values and appreciates his or her effort. Moreover, it conveys to clients that audit personnel place a strong value and emphasis on professional development, and they possess the skills to not only do their jobs but to serve as leaders in their profession.
Tools for Success
Ultimately, successful management of professional development resembles successful management of any other business process. The audit leader must align the mission and values of individuals with those of the organization, plan wisely, give people the tools and resources they need, and keep them engaged and motivated by tracking their progress and celebrating their success. The reward for the audit manager who does this effectively will be a greater ability to recruit and retain talent and to grow that talent to suit the mission of the audit function.