Transferable skills: The key to career mobility

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The term ‘transferable skills’ can be a little confusing, it’s broad and loose. Transferable skills are often considered the softer skills you pick up throughout your career that can help you become a fuller professional and one more attractive to employers. They include skills relating to communication, leadership, time management, analysis, commercial acumen and handling pressure.

But speaking to experienced ACCA members who have moved between sectors, companies and countries, transferable skills can also derive from the unique experiences and knowledge gained in specific roles that can be applied directly or indirectly to another role or sector. Or they can come form outside your job – like being a standup comedian (read Alan Cameron-Sweeney FCCA’s story below).

ACCA’s Generation Next report, which surveyed 19,000 ACCA students and members under 36, found that this group are highly mobile, they expect to move roles often, they understand the value of international experience, and that a finance career can lead to a variety of paths, in and out of finance.

With this desire for career mobility and fluidity, supported by an ongoing and significant skills shortage in finance, transferable skills come into real importance. Recruitment experts and ACCA members share their experiences of moving between sectors (and countries), and how studying ACCA develops more than just accounting skills.

Studying ACCA is a skill in itself

Phillip Pearce FCCA is group internal auditor at insurance company Novae, having moved into industry after over a decade working in practice.

‘We all recognise that studying ACCA while working in an accounting practice can be a challenging time. Balancing workload, study and your personal life over a number of years is like spinning plates. But it’s worth it! I believe this challenge forced a development of my organisational skills, while also showing me how everything fits into the bigger picture. The insurance sector is in a state of flux at the moment and is equally challenging. In a heavily regulated and competitive industry you need to balance key aspects of your workload and recognise when and where to prioritise. Those years of studying ACCA in accounting practice definitely set me up for that!’

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Josh Rufus, manager in public practice recruitment at Morgan McKinley.

‘I would say that generally across all disciplines the ability to study for your ACCA qualification alongside working, no matter what industry, is an important life skill in itself, one that will stand you in good stead for the next stage in your career. It will teach you the importance of time management, working to deadlines and perhaps managing stakeholder’s expectations.’

Upskilling to move between sectors… and countries

Alan Cameron-Sweeney FCCA, originally from Ireland, is founder of his eponymously named Melbourne-based finance training provider. He’s also a professional speaker and a standup comedian, something he feels has been a career booster.

‘Transferable skills are absolutely huge. I was originally a financial accountant in the head office of Ireland's biggest company. I was qualifying when the global financial crisis hit. I decided to move to Australia. Looking at job ads, I saw what skills were in demand, advanced excel was one of them, so I became a book-taught excel geek. From this I discovered DBA language in excel, for automation. I worked in non-profit at first and was worried that I’d find it difficult to get back into the commercial sector, which it was. So I got a job at a research centre through a university, off the back of my excel and programming skills. While there I started learning SQL, a database language, which meant we didn't need to pay consultants huge fees to come in and do this for us. I did a lot of process improvement and automation in that job. From this, I got back into the commercial sector in drinks company Asahi, thanks to my knowledge of DBA and SQL.

‘What really started getting me ahead around was my public speaking. I ended up running the professional development programme for a finance department of 210 people, based on the fact I was happy to stand up in front of them and give presentations. This, and standup comedy, inspired me to start my own training and speaking business. Accountants don't really put themselves out there. People think public speaking is tough. Comedy is more creative. It's given me the confidence to start my own business. If I can do a standup set, I can start a business. People in finance can be afraid of brainstorming aloud, of giving out ideas. But these are what get you further.’

Tips on gaining and proving transferable skills

  • Take responsibility for your career and make every effort to stay up-to-date with the skills employers need
  • Stay commercially aware by attending industry events, keep abreast of industry news and changes in legislation, undertake additional qualifications that could be beneficial to your career, and push for training either in-house or with an external provider
  • Rather than wait for your employer to send you on a course, find one that’s relevant and ask to do it
  • Remember to work on improving your soft skills and competencies, as well as your acquired technical skills
  • Become familiar with the new accounting cloud technologies, e.g. Xero, SAP, Quickbooks
  • While you should always tailor your CV to individual job applications, it’s important to emphasise your transferable skills, with relevant and discernible examples. Provide key words and phrases that demonstrate how your transferable skills are relevant to the job you’re applying for. Avoid using clichéd buzzwords or jargon
  • Your CV should be a summary of your best accomplishments and most relevant skills. Not all the information is necessary for every job, use what is applicable to the job description and person profile
  • Continuously log your skills by gathering evidence and proof. Measure the quantitative impact of your work at least quarterly. Be ready to think creatively in team meetings and in projects. Build up a bank of case studies where you can show how your fresh approach has led to success for your employer

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