There are times when companies try to draw a connection between their product offering and current trends, and it’s a tenuous stretch. For us, this is not one of those times. The growing skill gap among employees and job candidates is real, and the finance industry is not immune.
The Finance Industry’s Skill Gap Problem
There is a tight labor market in almost every industry. Legions of professionals have dropped out of the workforce, and fewer candidates than ever are stepping up to replace them. The finance industry is no exception, either.
According to Duke University’s Q3 2021 CFO Survey, roughly three out of every four CFOs are having trouble filling open positions. Another survey from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants found that a majority of companies report some level of difficulty in hiring professionals, with 22% describing that difficulty as “extreme.”
Finance organizations have responded to this problem in a few different ways, including:
Raising salaries to attract and retain employees
Promising better benefits packages
Offering remote work flexibility (previously unheard of in finance)
Using automation to help with tasks where possible
However, automation and generous recruitment strategies can only do so much. And for many companies, competing for top talent through ever-higher salaries is simply not an option as budgets will only stretch so far.
It means that the financial professionals that are available often lack the skills companies need most. A study that we did here at Corporate Finance Institute found that:
67% of financial organizations struggle with a financial skills gap
65% of finance professionals are concerned about a gap in their own financial skills
Let that sink in. Those are incredibly telling numbers. But even under-skilled employees are in high demand. Financial professionals have options—and they know it. If another employer starts to look more appealing to them, they may be out the door—and all the time and money you invested in hiring and onboarding them go down the drain.
So we find ourselves, as an industry, in a situation where:
Finding new employees is an uphill battle
The majority of employees lack the skills employers need
Retaining employees is harder than ever
Needless to say, this has left hiring managers across North America scratching their heads.
The fundamental solution is to embrace long-term thinking with employee development programs. Of course, as the CEO of Corporate Finance Institute, I am biased. But we’ve gone beyond the point where workforce skill development is a luxury that gets de-prioritized. In the words of Paul McDonald, Senior Executive Director at Robert Half:
“Managers should seize the opportunity now to affirm or reaffirm their commitment to each employee’s professional development.”
And even when hiring new employees, employee development is key. My long-time associates love to poke fun at my pre-disposition for hiring for potential versus experience, but it’s served me, and the companies I have led, well. If the skills you need aren’t immediately available, focus on recruiting candidates with the potential to grow. Help develop their professional skills so that they can serve your organization better while achieving their own professional goals. By keeping an eye open for diamonds in the rough, you can bypass the skills gap problem so many financial organizations are facing.
How Online Training Helps Solve the Finance Skills Gap
Traditionally, finance training takes place in a classroom or workshop setting. But over the past several years, a new model is growing in popularity—online training, either exclusively or in tandem with in-person training. More and more financial organizations are turning to online delivery to train and upskill their workforce.
Recently, the Corporate Finance Institute conducted a survey of major accounting firms, global banks, and Fortune 500 companies. This study found that a full 99% of financial organizations expect to increase their use of online training over the next five years—and 87% have already started that transition.
This is contrasted with the pre-COVID world, when only 25% of respondents used any form of online training for employees.
Due to the pandemic, many companies had to transition to remote work, and this necessitated remote training.
But while remote work and learning might have started out as a necessity, many financial organizations are continuing those policies voluntarily. That’s because companies around the world are discovering that online training can be much more efficient and effective than the traditional approach.
“I’ve completed quite a bit of online learning over the years in my career,” says Debbie Wilson, the Manager of Learning and Development at First West Credit Union, “and I think it’s just the way it needs to be done now.”
Key Benefits of Online Training
According to the same Corporate Finance Institute study mentioned above, 96% of finance professionals prefer to work at a company that offers online training.
In addition, more than half of all finance professionals view online-only training as the ideal model, while 42% prefer a mix of online and offline—leaving only 6% who prefer exclusively in-person training.
In a tight labor market, providing online training as an option for employees can give companies a legitimate edge over competitors.
2. Tailored Learning
One of the reasons finance professionals prefer online training is that it allows them to learn at their own pace, focusing on the topics they need most. In a traditional classroom setting, employees often find themselves either confused because the lesson is too advanced or bored because it’s too easy.
Online training eschews this one-size-fits-all approach of the traditional approach and lets learners go as fast or as slow as they need to. This is especially valuable when onboarding new hires.
3. Employee Experience
The growth of remote work has shown clearly that employees tend to be more satisfied—and productive—when they have a say in when, where, and how they work. The same is true for training. This translates to happier employees and higher engagement levels.
In fact, 68% of financial organizations and 88% of finance professionals say that online learning increases participation rates for corporate training.
Another benefit of online training is that it facilitates microlearning. Microlearning means learning in short bursts—often 10–15 minutes at a time.
Research shows that most employees work for an average of 11 minutes before getting distracted by colleagues, emails, and phone calls. Since online training sessions are frequently shorter than 11 minutes, this is an ideal timespan for an employee to give the lesson their full attention.
Plus, microlearning lets employees fit their training regimen into the empty spaces of their day—such as between meetings. That way, they can grow their skills while remaining productive rather than having to devote entire days to eight-hour training sessions.
5. Return on Investment
Who doesn’t love getting more for less?
In one analysis of the costs involved in employee training, the traditional model costs companies an average of $1,200 per employee, while online training only costs $8.30 per employee. With those numbers, it should come as no surprise that 74% of organizations feel that online learning is “significantly” or “very significantly” lower in cost than in-person classes and workshops.
Better yet, that reduced expense doesn’t mean settling for less of a return. On the contrary, 93% of organizations polled felt that online training would improve their companies’ profitability.
Online Training: The Future for Employee Development in Finance
The last few years have forced financial organizations to rethink how they hire, onboard, and upskill employees. By moving toward online learning, companies can attract better talent and close skill gaps among existing employees. Best of all, most organizations will see employee development costs while profitability increases.
Anna is an experienced operator and the former COO of the online training company Linux Academy. She loves building high-performing teams with a focus on go-to-market, people development, and culture. Outside of work, Anna splits her time between Nashville & New York and enjoys spending time with her husband and two children.