Training in the Modern Tax Practice

By Stephen P. Trenholm, CPA, MST

Co-Editors: Steven F. Holub, CPA, Aidman, Piser & Co., Tampa, FL, and Jane T. Rubin, CPA, Educational Strategies Co., St. Louis, MO

Training in the 21st-century public accounting firm is very different than it was 30 years ago, when many of the baby boomers who are now in management positions within the firms began their careers. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, much of the training that staff received was on-the-job training or “baptism by fire.” Continuing education, at least for small and medium-sized firms, was obtained from either outside seminars given by the state CPA society, graduate degree programs, or self-study training programs. National firms generally had their own specialized training programs.
The landscape of the profession has changed greatly over the past generation, and the concept of “training” and the implementation of training programs has also changed to meet current needs.

Training Methods

Professional staff training can take many different forms, depending on the size of the firm and any specialties the practice may have.

Each professional staff person in the firm, including partners, should have a continuing education (CPE) goal sheet, as well as a tracking mechanism to record all applicable CPE and indicate how it applies to the goals of that staff person. When developing a training program and a CPE goal sheet for staff who have not yet completed the entire Uniform CPA Exam, it is important to remember that they must be well rounded in all aspects of the profession in order to pass the exam. Their CPE goal sheets should support, rather than distract from, their CPA exam preparation.

There are various types of in-house training methods. Formal training programs can focus on specific topics. Some firms have also begun to hold monthly “lunch and learn” presentations. Ideas for tax topics are solicited from the staff, and the gatherings may include more in-depth discussion of, for example, dependent rules and education credits, for Form 6198 and the at-risk limitations. Not only is this effective in teaching staff about the topic at hand, it can also provide an opportunity for the staff to socialize. Even a sole practitioner with only a few staff members can benefit from a lunch and learn program.

There are various ways to obtain training without developing it in-house, and many are very cost effective. A great deal of free CPE is provided by vendors, whether software or service providers. The AICPA and the various state societies provide useful and timely presentations. There are also podcasts and web-based seminars, either free or paid for by credit hour, as well as traditional self-study courses. With the exception of the web seminars and podcasts, these sources have been the professional standard for many years. Podcasts and web seminars can be an excellent and inexpensive way of keeping up with many topics without even leaving the office. Conferences are a good place for individuals to improve skills and to discuss professional issues with their peers, which can be a valuable learning tool in itself. Conferences and CPE seminars that are held off site are also networking events for the staff, where they can interact with their peers in other firms and gain knowledge and support from outside the office.


Mr. Holub is a former chair of the AICPA Tax Division’s Tax Practice Management Committee. Ms. Rubin is the chair of the AICPA Tax Division’s Tax Practice Improvement Committee. Mr. Trenholm is a member of the Tax Practice Improvement Committee. For more information about this column, contact Mr. Trenholm at

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