“We’ve just tripled our workforce overseas” is a statement we have heard quite a few times over the past few years. This migration is a byproduct of the current shortage of accountants in the U.S., and the relative availability of talent in India and other countries. The immediate challenge is providing an offshore accounting staff training program that gets this rapid influx of internationally based employees on the same page with the accounting firm’s personnel in the United States.
Most U.S.-based accounting firms have struggled to come up with effective staff training programs for their professionals in India and other offshore countries. U.S.-based trainers face thirty+ hours of travel to arrive overseas to an office based in India for in-person classes, and once they arrive they rarely stay long enough to get an understanding of the culture that can make or break the effectiveness of the training program. Remote training rarely takes into account the technology challenges that can only be understood by a resource who has visited India and seen firsthand the hardware, software and connectivity issues that hamstring the effectiveness of virtual learning.
Since the pandemic, 20-20 Services has led more than 100 training programs for various clients with an offshore presence in a variety of countries. We’ve learned that to provide successful offshore accounting staff training, it must address some very specific challenges.
Technology is never a given
The first hurdle to overcome is always technology. You cannot assume the offshore students will have the necessary hardware or software, and it is an ongoing struggle to find the kind of broadband necessary to support the live-streamed nature of interactive virtual training. Add to that the security infrastructure that accounting firms need to have in place to protect sensitive client data stored on a worldwide network, and remote training can be extremely challenging.
Recently, we have seen a rapid improvement in technology which has alleviated some of these challenges. Supplementing live training with pre-recorded content and other forms of asynchronous learning has also been well received in our offshore accounting staff training programs. 20-20 Services is on a short list of NASBA-approved CPE providers that offers Blended Learning as a training option. Blended learning allows for an asynchronous portion of the training program, in either in-person or virtually-delivered sessions.
Time zone challenges run deeper than you think
Anyone can look at a map and realize most of India’s workday occurs while U.S.-based personnel are sleeping and vice versa. That’s the obvious challenge. What runs deeper is the impact of the unavailability of real-time communication. The ability to have an informal exchange of ideas when work is being executed makes the initial task so much more effective. We often take these short and easy interactions for granted. There has always been an informal learning process that occurs when an associate can walk down the hall or connect live via computer in the early stages of a project to ask questions. Without immediate access, an overseas team might go several hours in the wrong direction before communication is received and a course correction is possible.
The lack of informal training opportunities has created the need for more detailed and customized training solutions. 20-20 Services instructors have experienced a tremendous thirst for knowledge from their offshore accounting students. Customized offshore accounting staff training programs that are more in-depth and directed at specific topics have been the most successful. Trainers who support overseas teams need to allow more time for individual study and be prepared for lengthier question-and-answer sessions.
Cultural awareness can make or break offshore accounting staff training
One of the main benefits touted for work in India was always the idea of the 24-hour firm—U.S. teams hand off work to their counterparts overseas who then work through the night and hand it back in the morning. The reality has been that it’s a challenge to communicate effectively when real-time interactions are limited. Cultural differences, language barriers, and underdeveloped written communication skills create a challenging environment.
Many accounting firms focus on technical training for their offshore accounting staff training. Adding soft skills to improve communication can be just impactful. 20-20 Services has excelled at teaching firms the soft skills of interoffice relationships since the inception of the company, and our team has translated that skill into programs that help U.S. and overseas teams communicate more effectively.
Don’t try this at home
Play to Your Strengths: When In-House Training Is the Right Choice discusses some of the decision points that go into determining what training to do in-house and what to outsource. When it comes to training offshore professionals, all of those factors come down in favor of finding an experienced external trainer to support your efforts. 20-20’s combination of trainers with experience overseas and logistical knowledge to overcome technical challenges can help to train both your stateside as well as your overseas staff at the same standards so your cross-border handoffs become seamless.
We evaluate the specific needs of each firm and create custom solutions that cover the common concerns that affect all firms as well as the unique challenges that arise as each firm attempts to capitalize on overseas markets for acquiring and retaining accounting talent.
If your firm needs help with training for your offshore professionals, please reach out to 20-20 Services to learn how we can help you.