In 2004, after working at two Big Four firms and an investment bank, and after starting a business specializing in global opportunities, I became a college professor, teaching introductory and intermediate accounting. During the transition, I noticed differences between practice and the classroom environment. For example, college students are judged by test results, while accounting firm employees are judged by the "results" they deliver to their employers.
Not only are employees required to comprehend concepts; they are judged by three measurements: quality, efficiency, and productivity. Quality means the individual's work requires little or no correction, is error-free, and reflects a professional presentation of the final product. Efficiency measures how fast one delivers the work. (Faster is better: Someone who spends less time than his peers is considered a top performer.) Productivity involves how much one contributes to a firm within a specified timeframe. Billable hours are one measure of employees' performance at the entry level: The more billable hours one logs, the more one is contributing to the firm. The most highly regarded entry-level employees are those who contribute the largest quantity of high-quality work in the least amount of time.
The AICPA defines competency as a set of requisite skills for all students preparing to enter the accounting profession. Since 1999, the AICPA has been providing resources to help educators integrate me skills-based competencies needed by entrylevel accounting professionals. These competencies are always evolving over time, as the accounting profession positions itself higher on the information value chain. The AICPA core competency model (www. aicpa.org/edu/corecomp.htm), issued in 2006, is one source for identifying the determinants of professional success. The framework categorizes competencies as functional (technical competencies most closely aligned with the value contributed by accounting professionals), personal (individual attributes and values), and broad business perspective competencies (understanding internal and external business contexts).
This article reflects upon my experiences as a CPA in both public practice and academia, and my realization of the great importance of certain AICPA core competencies, such as the leverage of technology, lifelong learning, communication, leadership, and teamwork. To help my students develop and enhance these skills, I have adjusted my accounting courses and designed a new accounting pedagogy based on the AICPA core-competencies model. My hope is that, by sharing my industry and teaching experiences, other accounting educators will benefit.
At one Big Four firm where I worked, employees used sample templates in the "repository," an electronic, firmwide global database of standardized work documents. Before starting an engagement, one retrieved from the repository sample workpapers developed by experts in the firm. The project executors later customized a sample workpaper, based on the client's information, and prepared a final presentation to be delivered to the client. Upon completion of a new project, the project executors modified, perfected, and submitted the revised workpapers to the repository. In this way, successors and colleagues from other offices could leverage work done by the project executors. The repository significantly improved work quality, efficiency, and productivity for the firm as a whole.
In any firm, individuals and the firm benefit from "leveraging" technology, information, and best practices among their peers. The work documents ensure the continuity of the business and the ability of a new employee to serve the clients, even if prior project executors eventually leave the firm. Thus, information- and knowledge-sharing become an ongoing, collaborative process.
To familiarize students with technology, I designed a computerized accounting practice. …