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Overcoming employment challenges in the coming recession

A global financial crisis or pandemic, while tragic, creates opportunities if we have the courage to seize them. What better place to start than certification, education, training and professional networking using online learning and collaboration tools? Jeff Thomson, president and CEO at the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), writes

The Covid-19 crisis has already led to an economic downturn and mass unemployment throughout the world – with a probable recession also underway.

First and foremost, we should be concerned for public health and safety during this time, and our hopes should be for the physical well-being of everyone.

Secondarily, as the CEO of a global association for management accountants, I see this as a chance for professionals to seize the current challenge and take opportunities to grow personally for their careers. As we are now in a time of massive disruption, crises, change and uncertainty, professionals need to take charge of their careers to help stand out among their peers.

Finance professionals are no strangers to disruption and challenges to their jobs and careers. The financial crisis of 2008-2009 and subsequent recession caused many established professionals to lose their jobs, while also making it more difficult for students who were just finishing their studies to find employment. Consequently, many students chose to stay in school to pursue advanced degrees, while established professionals returned to academia. As a result, higher education enrolment surged by around 16% between 2007 and 2010.

Undoubtedly, many students and professionals who acquired degrees and skills during this time benefited. However, the need to upskill is constant, and when there is a sense of urgency, it is even more important. Here are some options on how finance professionals can navigate the current situation and come out on top:


Pursuing a professional certification

Pursuing certification can boost one’s credentials while also ensuring flexibility regarding time. A mid-career professional can pursue certification while still working or applying for jobs, and much of the studying and test preparation can be done virtually in cases where courses and testing themselves cannot be taken online.

There are multiple certifications available for finance professionals, depending on what type of work they specialise in and their own talents and career goals. In addition to the CPA, finance professionals can explore the following options:

  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA): This equips professionals with the skills they need to work in investment management and financial analysis, and is ideal for those who seek to work at major investment firms;
  • Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA): This more specialised certification in financial analysis focuses on investments other than equities and bonds, including real assets, commodities, structured products and intellectual property, and insurance-linked securities;
  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA): This is the only internationally recognised certification for internal auditors, whose role is to serve as ‘watchdogs’ within organisations and uphold compliance and transparency;
  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA): This certification – administered by the organisation of which I am CEO, IMA – equips finance professionals with a wide range of skills, from data analytics to ethics, with the aim of becoming senior business leaders.

Though all these certifications involve time and financial commitments, they are generally less time-consuming and expensive than advanced degree programs. They can be ideal for professionals facing a period of unemployment who want to improve their skill sets and CVs relatively quickly.


Taking one-off online courses

Another way in which professionals can improve their credentials and skills is by taking one-off courses.

Most universities offer courses without requiring those who take them to matriculate. This is a good way to refine skills, in particular, finance and accounting subject areas, while updating existing knowledge. As the Covid-19 crisis has forced the closure of most physical universities and other higher education institutions, these courses would be taken online for the time being.

Even after social distancing rules are lifted, it may be a good idea to explore online rather than classroom-based options, as they can reduce the time and effort professionals must invest and allow them to continue working or searching for employment full time.


Finding a mentor

A less formal – but highly effective – way for finance professionals to upskill for a tight job market is to find a mentor.

In my own career, I have seen many professionals help guide their peers through difficult situations and career pathways, offering advice and support along the way. Using LinkedIn is a good way to find such valuable connections, as is belonging to a professional organisation like IMA.

The next few months – and possibly the next year and beyond – will undoubtedly be difficult for many people in the profession. But a commitment to learning and upskilling – whether through formal certification or informal mentoring and networking – can help professionals weather the downturn and distinguish themselves in the job market and within their organisations.

This time of urgency and crisis can serve as an opportunity for professionals to take charge of their careers and learn more.

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