The Very Many Faces of Learning: Key Aspects to Train and Develop Auditors

Traditionally auditing was considered to be a compliance function, which is indeed the foundation of the profession. However, in today’s world, the auditors are being rated as distinguished advisors for governance, risk management and the identification of opportunities for the business. This change in profile has a huge impact on the expectations from the auditors in terms of competencies.

The auditor is required not only to examine, investigate, and assess but also to reflect on the future. The failure to perform a good audit can bring consequences difficult to digest in terms of financial, reputational, and operational. Identifying expertise is therefore crucial. Auditing is a growing profession but a challenging one that requires years to invest, and frankly speaking, quite some fail to master.

Out of the long list of competencies to be demonstrated as part of the profession, knowledge and experience are weighed to be the most critical and the most demanding ones. Often, it is required to have a tertiary education for the profession for the entrance, however without the industry and business knowledge followed by a workplace learning, the path to success is never complete.

There are numerous research and articles published on the critical skills for auditors, which can be summarized into the following set of competences:

  • Business and industry knowledge
  • Interpretation based on information collected
  • Analytical and judgmental skills
  • Reflecting on future possibilities (risk and opportunity)

In this article, we will be discussing a few of the design and delivery requirements for a successful training and development program targeted for auditors.

Content of the Training and Development Program

A typical training and development scheme involves improving the skills, knowledge, behavior and attitudes of employees. Training and development programs designed for auditors are rather complex and should address both technical and soft skill development in short, mid and longer-term. It should also meet the different needs of the individuals as well as the needs of the industry.

While deciding the content of the training and the development program, the four main competencies should be taken into account:

Business Knowledge:

The auditor should have sufficient knowledge about the industry and operations of the business being audited. The organization should define a minimum level of knowledge for the entry level as part of selection criteria. Training of a new auditor should address at a minimum the following:

  • Knowledge for the entire industry (risks as well as opportunities)
  • Knowledge about the country of operations (including economic, technological as well as social developments and burdens)
  • Knowledge specific to the operations of the company

It is important to note that the acquisition of business knowledge is a continuous process and should be addressed as part of change management.

Interpretation:

An auditor should demonstrate the skills to interpret the information correct, correlate different data set and produce a meaningful outcome. The training program should help the individual develop this critical skill through traditional learning methods as well as case studies and coached audits.

Analytical and Judgmental Skills:

An auditor should use the outcome of his/her assessment to make an overall judgment about the health of the organization and report those in a professional manner. This will require tremendous amount of practice in auditing and writing reports. The content of the training program should address the development of judgmental skills by case studies, calibration exercises and performing a critical number of audits.

Forward-Thinking

An auditor should conclude his/her assessment with a clear evaluation on the current risks and opportunities together with the possible future needs and consequences. This will require a great deal of mastery and forward-thinking. The content of the training and development program should address the development of this mastery by case studies, calibration exercises, performing a critical number of audits and potentially by rotation among other roles in the company.

Design of Training and Development Program

When an auditor training and development program is designed, a particular consideration to be made regarding adult learning. As per Knowles’s theory, an adult learner is someone who is motivated and willing to learn, and who engages in a process of self-directed learning (Knowles, 1977).

Researchers define learning as a multi-dimensional, socio-cultural activity that can not be separated from the context in which it takes place (Billet, 2004; Lattuca, 2002; Lave, 2009; Rogoff, 1990). Learning can not be in isolation, and best acquired with active practicing. A well designed training and development program should support individual, in-team and cross-team learning opportunities.

The effectiveness of the audit requires more than simply checking the records and documentation. Acquired information can only be transferred into knowledge by active participation which constitutes a building block.

There are a couple of ways to support practicing:

  • Case studies: They are excellent tools to be used during framed training courses (online, classroom, e-learning or blended) as they provide simulations on real case problems and allow the participants to demonstrate and improve the analytical and judgmental skills, which are key for success during an audit.
  • Calibration exercises: They are extremely powerful in creating constructive discussions among auditors. In most of the cases, it is these discussions rather than the agreed ratings that create the perfect moment for learning.
  • Coached audits: When auditors take part in audits as trainee, indeed what they are doing is to experience the Kobl’s (1984) experiential learning cycle.

They watch an experienced auditor while performing the job. Then they conceptualize the theory of what they observe. They will then be given the opportunity to do the job himself/herself and then get feedback. This will allow the individual to improve and internalize the task and create the concrete experience after several runs.

Selection of Trainers/Coaches

When selecting trainers and coaches, knowledge and experience in business as well as auditing profession are critical. Trainers should have a good balance of technical expertise (more linked what to do) and vocational expertise (more linked to how to do). It is great to have the Subject Matter Experts used for the technical part of the training, but it is highly encouraged to have seasoned auditors as co-trainers to discuss the tips for auditing.

Trainers and coaches should be capable of transferring knowledge and experience and have critical skills to measure the true performance and potential of the individuals.

Performance Measurement

A strong training and development program should be accompanied with a set of clearly defined performance criteria to ensure the following at a minimum:

  • Training and development needs are addressed on a continuous basis
  • Content of training is adequate
  • Delivery method is adequate
  • Trainers and coaches are capable
  • Self-learning tools are available and effectively used
  • Program supports continuous improvement

It is extremely important to remember also that an effective learning will be an outcome of the following:

  • Commitment of the individual
  • Management support with a clear balance between individuals needs and company needs
  • A nurturing learning environment encouraging self-directed learning together with the team learning

References:

  • “The Development of Trainee Auditors’ Skills in Tertiary Education”; C.V.Helliar, E.A.Monk, L.A.Stevenson; International Journal of Auditing; 2009
  • “Developing early career professional auditors at work :what are the determinants of success?” ; K.Plant, K.Baraac, H.de Jager, University of Pretoria
  • “Training of auditors and developing their professional competence”; J.Mackevicius, L.Kazlauskiene; Engineering Economics, 2004
  • “Kolb’s learning cycle: An alternative strategy to engineering education”; N.D.Kuri; Universidade de São Paulo

By Tülay Kahraman
February 11, 2021

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