IES 3 IES 3:
Professional Skills

Introduction

Scope of this Standard
  1. International Education Standard (IES) 3 prescribes the learning outcomes for professional skills that aspiring professional accountants are required to achieve by the end of Initial Professional Development (IPD). Professional skills are the (a) intellectual, (b) interpersonal and communication, (c) personal, and (d) organizational skills that a professional accountant integrates with technical competence and professional values, ethics, and attitudes to demonstrate professional competence.
  2. IES 3 is addressed to International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) member bodies. IFAC member bodies have responsibility for ensuring that IPD meets the requirements of IES 3. In addition, IES 3 may be helpful to educational organizations, employers, regulators, government authorities, and any other stakeholders who support the learning and development of aspiring professional accountants.
  3. IES 3 specifies the competence areas and learning outcomes that describe the professional skills required of aspiring professional accountants by the end of IPD. IES 2, Initial Professional Development - Technical Competence (2021), and IES 4, Initial Professional Development - Professional Values, Ethics, and Attitudes (2021), specify competence areas and learning outcomes relevant to their areas of focus within IPD. Together, these IES specify the competence areas and learning outcomes that describe the professional competence required of aspiring professional accountants by the end of IPD.
  4. Definitions and explanations of the key terms used in the IES and the Framework for International Education Standards for Professional Accountants and Aspiring Professional Accountants (2015) are set out in the Glossary of Terms for International Education Standards (2021).
Explanatory Material
  1. An aspiring professional accountant is an individual who has commenced a professional accounting education program as part of IPD. IPD is the learning and development through which aspiring professional accountants first develop competence leading to performing a role as a professional accountant. IPD builds on general education and includes professional accounting education, practical experience, and assessment. IPD continues until aspiring professional accountants can demonstrate the professional competence required for their chosen roles in the accountancy profession.
  2. Internationally, there are significant legal and regulatory differences that determine the point of qualification (or licensing) of professional accountants. Each IFAC member body may define the appropriate relationship between the end of IPD and the point of qualification (or licensing) for its members.
  3. Professional competence can be described and categorized in many different ways. Within the IES, professional competence is the ability to perform a role to a defined standard. Professional competence goes beyond knowledge of principles, standards, concepts, facts, and procedures; it is the integration and application of (a) technical competence, (b) professional skills, and (c) professional values, ethics, and attitudes.
  4. The inclusion of professional skills in IPD lays the base for performing a role as a professional accountant. Further development of professional skills is a focus of Continuing Professional Development (CPD), which is covered in IES 7, Continuing Professional Development (2020).
  5. Within IES 3, professional skills are categorized into four competence areas:
    1. Intellectual relates to the ability of a professional accountant to solve problems, make decisions, adapt to change, and exercise professional judgment;
    2. Interpersonal and communication relate to the ability of a professional accountant to work and interact effectively with others;
    3. Personal relates to the personal attitudes and behavior of a professional accountant; and
    4. Organizational relates to the ability of a professional accountant to work effectively with or within an organization to obtain the optimal results or outcomes from the people and resources available.
  6. A competence area is a category for which a set of related learning outcomes can be specified. Competence areas within professional skills include intellectual and organizational; competence areas within technical competence include financial accounting and reporting, taxation, and economics; and competence areas within professional values, ethics, and attitudes include ethical principles as well as professional skepticism and professional judgment.
  7. Learning outcomes establish the content and the depth of knowledge, understanding, and application required for each specified competence area. Learning outcomes can be achieved within the context of a work environment or professional accounting education program.

Effective Date

  1. IES 3 is effective from January 1, 2021.

View Currently-Effective IES

Objective

  1. The objective of IES 3 is to establish the professional skills that aspiring professional accountants need to develop and demonstrate by the end of IPD, in order to perform a role as a professional accountant.
Explanatory Material
  1. Establishing the professional skills that aspiring professional accountants need to develop and demonstrate by the end of IPD serves several purposes. It protects the public interest, enhances the quality of the work of professional accountants and promotes the credibility of the accountancy profession.

Requirements and Explanatory Material

Learning Outcomes for Professional Skills
  1. IFAC member bodies shall prescribe the learning outcomes for professional skills to be achieved by aspiring professional accountants by the end of IPD. These learning outcomes shall include those listed under the competence areas below.

Expand each competence area to see the required learning outcomes.

The level of proficiency for a competence area identifies the level to be achieved by the end of IPD.

(a) Intellectual

Level of Proficiency: Intermediate

  1. Evaluate data and information from a variety of sources and perspectives through research, integration, and analysis.
  2. Apply critical thinking skills to solve problems, inform judgments, make decisions, and reach well-reasoned conclusions.
  3. Identify when it is appropriate to consult with specialists.
  4. Recommend solutions to unstructured, multi-faceted problems.
  5. Respond effectively to changing circumstances or new information to solve problems, inform judgments, make decisions, and reach well-reasoned conclusions.

(b) Interpersonal and communication

Level of Proficiency: Intermediate

  1. Demonstrate collaboration, cooperation and teamwork when working towards organizational goals.
  2. Communicate clearly and concisely when presenting, discussing, and reporting in formal and informal situations.
  3. Demonstrate awareness of cultural and language differences in all communication.
  4. Apply active listening and effective interviewing techniques.
  5. Apply negotiation skills to reach solutions and agreements.
  6. Apply consultative skills to minimize or resolve conflict, solve problems, and maximize opportunities.
  7. Present ideas and influence others to provide support and commitment.

(c) Personal

Level of Proficiency: Intermediate

  1. Demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning.
  2. Set high personal standards of performance and monitor through reflective activity and feedback from others.
  3. Manage time and resources to achieve professional commitments.
  4. Anticipate challenges and plan potential solutions.
  5. Apply an open mind to new opportunities.
  6. Identify the potential impact of personal and organizational bias.

(d) Organizational

Level of Proficiency: Intermediate

  1. Undertake assignments in accordance with established practices to meet prescribed deadlines.
  2. Review own work and that of others to determine whether it complies with the organization's quality standards.
  3. Apply people management skills to motivate and develop others.
  4. Apply delegation skills to deliver assignments.
  5. Apply leadership skills to influence others to work towards organizational goals.
Explanatory Material
  1. The requirement lists the learning outcomes for professional skills to be achieved by aspiring professional accountants by the end of IPD, regardless of their intended future accounting specialization or role. These learning outcomes provide the base to enable professional accountants to develop specializations in different accounting roles, for example an audit engagement partner or a taxation specialist.
  2. In the design of professional accounting education programs, the four competence areas listed in the requirement may not be identical to the names of prescribed courses or subjects. Also, the learning outcomes associated with one competence area (for example, organizational) may be achieved across more than one course or subject. The achievement of some learning outcomes (for example, those within intellectual) may extend across several different courses or subjects, none of which may be devoted solely to that competence area.
  3. There are many ways to describe and classify levels of proficiency. The description developed for purposes of the IES is provided in Appendix 1, Description of Levels of Proficiency.
  4. In the requirement, each competence area has been assigned a level of proficiency that aspiring professional accountants are expected to achieve by the end of IPD. This level of proficiency indicates the context in which the relevant learning outcomes are expected to be demonstrated. Together, the learning outcomes and the level of proficiency of the competence area provide information to help IFAC member bodies design their professional accounting education programs.
  5. In professional accounting education programs, an IFAC member body may: (a) include additional competence areas; (b) increase the level of proficiency for some competence areas; or (c) develop additional learning outcomes that are not specified in IES 3. This may occur when an IFAC member body prepares aspiring professional accountants to work within a particular industry sector (for example, the public sector) or for a particular role (for example, a management accountant or an auditor).
  6. IFAC member bodies, educators, and other stakeholders are encouraged to identify the most appropriate approach to learning and development for professional skills, taking into consideration the national and cultural environment. An appropriate approach is likely to include a mixture of learning and development activities which combine structured learning programs and practical experience. For example, practical experience supervisors play an important role in helping aspiring professional accountants to develop professional skills within the workplace.

 

Review of Professional Accounting Education Programs
  1. IFAC member bodies shall regularly review and update professional accounting education programs that are designed to achieve the learning outcomes in IES 3.
Explanatory Material
  1. Professional accounting education programs are designed to support aspiring professional accountants to develop the appropriate professional competence by the end of IPD. Such programs may include formal education delivered through qualifications and courses offered by universities, other higher education providers, IFAC member bodies, and employers, as well as workplace training. The design of professional accounting education programs may involve substantive input from stakeholders other than IFAC member bodies.
  2. The requirement to review and update professional accounting education programs on a regular basis reflects the rapidly-changing and complex environment within which professional accountants operate. A typical review cycle may be three to five years, but it may be appropriate to undertake a more frequent review, for example to take account of changes in legislation, regulations, and standards relevant to professional accountants.

 

Assessment of Professional Skills
  1. IFAC member bodies shall establish appropriate assessment activities to assess the professional skills of aspiring professional accountants.
Explanatory Material
  1. IES 6, Initial Professional Development - Assessment of Professional Competence (2015), provides the principles that apply to the design of assessment activities used to assess the professional skills and other elements of professional competence.
  2. Various assessment activities can be used to assess the professional skills of aspiring professional accountants. Work-based simulations or group exercises are examples of activities that enable aspiring professional accountants to develop and demonstrate achievement of learning outcomes related to professional skills, within a professional accounting education program. Practical experience also enables aspiring professional accountants to participate in assessment activities to demonstrate their professional skills. Examples of such activities include: (a) keeping a diary, (b) participating in 360 degree assessments, (c) compiling portfolios of evidence of achievement of learning outcomes, or (d) being monitored by a practical experience supervisor.
  3. Assessment of professional skills in the workplace may require a different approach to that of written examinations in order to achieve high levels of reliability, validity, equity, transparency, and sufficiency. For example, assessment design may include:
    1. Specification of learning outcomes that are clear and detailed in order to minimize ambiguity and increase the reliability and transparency of the assessment;
    2. Training of workplace assessors in order to achieve consistency between assessors and equity between aspiring professional accountants; and
    3. Creation of work-based simulations in order to provide sufficient, equitable, and reliable assessments of professional skills.

 

Tools for Implementation

Overview

IFAC

FAQs - Implementing a Learning Outcomes Approach Based on the International Education Standards

General Information; Design-related; Assessment-related; Governance-related.

IFAC

Video - The Importance of Professional Accounting Education and the Impact of IESs

What is professional accounting education and how does it differ from an accounting education program offered by a university? Why is professional accounting education important? How do the revised International Education Standards impact professional accounting education?

IFAC

Video - An Overview of the International Education Standards

What are the International Education Standards and what do they regulate? Who is the target audience for International Education Standards? What is their level of authority?

Implementation Support

IFAC

The Value of Implementing a Learning Outcomes Approach

Learning Outcomes Approach: Purpose and Benefits.

IFAC

Illustrative Example: A Mentored Workplace-Based Learning Experience Program For Aspiring Professional Accountants

The example illustrates a mentored experience program that is a work experience-based program designed to assist new entrants to the accountancy profession.

IFAC

Illustrative Example: Designing a Higher Education Program to Contribute to a Professional Accounting Qualification

The example illustrates the design principle for an “approved” Master’s program that awards partial exemption to students undertaking the professional accounting qualification.

IFAC

Guiding Principles for Implementing a Learning Outcomes Approach

Describes the guiding principles on design, assessment, and governance for a learning outcome approach.

IFAC

Illustrative Example for Designing Learning Outcomes for Curricula that Meet Public Sector Accountancy Needs

The example illustrates the design principle for a learning outcome approach in the context of public sector accountancy and assists in the preparation of related public sector curricula.

IFAC

Illustrative Example: Addressing Governance Structure in Implementing a Learning Outcomes-Based Curriculum

The example illustrates how the governance structure can influence the development and administration of a learning outcomes-based professional accountancy curriculum.

IFAC

Illustrative Example: Setting and Marking Examinations in a Professional Accounting Education Program

The example explains how to use assessment activities in examining learning objectives for a relevant competence area.

IFAC

Implementation Guidance: Illustrative Learning Outcomes for the Public Sector Accountancy Curricula

This guidance serves as a companion document for the Implementation Support Material document titled: Illustrative Example for Designing Learning Outcomes for Curricula that Meet Public Sector Accountancy Needs. It aims to tangibly demonstrate how IES may be implemented and adapted to create curricula that serve the needs of professional accountants in the public sector.

Perspectives

IFAC

New Generations in the Workplace: Educational Innovation Challenges

The Personal Perspectives series presents IAESB members’, technical advisors’, and other stakeholders’ visions on challenges affecting aspiring and current professional accountants’ learning and development.

IFAC

Making Sense of Accounting Education in a World of Change: An Accounting Firm Viewpoint

The Personal Perspectives series presents IAESB members’, technical advisors’, and other stakeholders’ visions on challenges affecting aspiring and current professional accountants’ learning and development.

Studies & Reports

External Resource | CEDEFOP

Briefing Note - Qualifications Frameworks in Europe. 2018 Developments

European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training.

External Resource | UIL

Global Inventory of Regional and National Qualifications Frameworks 2019, Volume I: Thematic chapters

UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL); European Centre for Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop); European Training Foundation (ETF); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Thought Leadership

IFAC

ICT Skills Development: The Digital Age and Opportunities for Accountants

Discussion of various technological advancements: Big Data, Blockchain and bitcoin, cloud computing, XBRL, mobile phone technology, artificial intelligence, drone technology, new software applications, and social media.

IFAC

ICT Skills Development: Issues for the Accounting Profession

Discussion of some of the challenges, including cybersecurity, outdated accounting systems, the changing role of the professional, and job mobility, arising from technological change.

IFAC

ICT Skills Development: Developing Countries

Discussion of the impact of ICT on developing countries in terms of the digital divide, ICT benefits, ICT policy for education, and the influence of ICT on CPD programs, training and qualification programs.

IFAC

ICT Skills Development: Education

Discussion of the impact of ICT on classroom, universities, and CPD.

Glossary

Aspiring professional accountant

An individual who has commenced a professional accounting education program as part of Initial Professional Development.

Assessment

Evaluation of professional competence developed through learning and development.

Assessment activity

Those activities designed to assess specific areas of professional competence.

Combination approach

A combination approach combines elements of input-based and output-based approaches.

Competence area

A category for which a set of related learning outcomes can be specified.

Content validity (of assessment)

In relation to assessment, whether an assessment activity provides adequate coverage of the particular aspect of professional competence being assessed.

Continuing professional development (CPD)

Learning and development that takes place after initial professional development, and that develops and maintains professional competence* to enable professional accountants to continue to perform their roles competently.

Cooperative education

A program of education, generally leading to a degree, which includes alternating periods (e.g., terms, semesters, trimesters) of academic study and full-time work experience. This will generally result in additional time required to complete degree requirements.

Education

Systematic process aimed at acquiring and developing knowledge, skills, and other capabilities within individuals, a process that is typically but not exclusively conducted in academic environments.

Equity (of assessment)

In relation to assessment, whether an assessment activity is fair and without bias.

Face validity (of assessment)

In relation to assessment, whether an assessment activity is perceived to measure what it is intended to measure.

Financial statements

A structured representation of historical financial information, including disclosures, intended to communicate an entity’s economic resources or obligations at a point in time or of the changes therein for a period of time in accordance with a financial reporting framework. The term “financial statements” ordinarily refers to a complete set of financial statements as determined by the requirements of the applicable financial reporting framework, but can also refer to a single financial statement. Disclosures comprise explanatory or descriptive information, set out as required, expressly permitted or otherwise allowed by the applicable financial reporting framework, on the face of a financial statement, or in the notes, or incorporated therein by cross-reference.

The financial statements subject to audit are those of the entity, prepared by management of the entity with oversight from those charged with governance.

Firm

A sole practitioner, partnership, corporation, or other entity of professional accountants.

Formal education

The non-workplace based component of an accounting education program.

Good practice

Those elements considered essential to the education and development of professional accountants and performed at a standard necessary to the achievement of professional competence.

Information and communications technologies (ICT)

Established and emerging technologies, techniques, and processes used to capture, manage, transform, or communicate data and information.

Initial professional development (IPD)

Learning and development through which aspiring professional accountants first develop competence leading to performing a role as a professional accountant.

Input measure

An input-based measure focuses on the investment made in learning and development, for example, the number of hours an individual is expected to attend a course or the subject areas covered.

Input-based approach

An approach that establishes an amount of learning activity required for professional accountants to develop and maintain professional competence.

Intellectual skills

Skills relating to the ability of a professional accountant to solve problems, to make decisions, adapt to change, and exercise professional judgment.

Interpersonal and communication skills

Skills relating to the ability of a professional accountant to work and interact effectively with others.

Learning and Development

An ongoing process of developing and maintaining professional competence throughout the career of a professional.

Learning outcome

The content and the depth of knowledge, understanding, and application required for a specified competence area.

Monitoring

Systematic process of collecting, reviewing, and confirming the evidence that demonstrates professional competence has been developed or maintained.

Organizational skills

Skills relating to the ability of a professional accountant to work effectively with or within an organization to obtain the optimal results or outcomes from the people and resources available.

Output measure

An output-based measure focuses on whether the professional accountant has developed the specified competence.

Output-based approach

An approach that requires professional accountants to demonstrate, by way of achieved learning outcomes, that they develop and maintain professional competence.

Personal skills

Skills relating to the personal attitudes and behavior of a professional accountant.

Practical experience

Workplace and other activities that are relevant to developing professional competence.

Practical experience supervisor

A professional accountant who is responsible for guiding, advising, and assisting aspiring professional accountants in acquiring sufficient practical experience.

Predictive validity (of assessment)

In relation to assessment, whether the content of the assessment activity relates to the particular aspect of professional competence that it is intended to assess.

Professional accountant

An individual who achieves, demonstrates, and further develops professional competence to perform a role in the accountancy profession and who is required to comply with a code of ethics as directed by a professional accountancy organization or a licensing authority.

Professional accounting education

Education and training that builds on general education, and imparts (a) professional knowledge, (b) professional skills, and (c) professional values, ethics, and attitudes.

Professional accounting education program

Programs designed to support aspiring professional accountants to develop the appropriate professional competence by the end of initial professional development. They may consist of formal education delivered through degrees and courses offered by universities, other higher education providers, IFAC member bodies, and employers, as well as workplace training.

Professional competence

The ability to perform a role to a defined standard.

Professional judgment

The application of relevant training, knowledge, and experience, within the context provided by auditing, accounting, and ethical standards, in making informed decisions about the courses of action that are appropriate in the circumstances of the audit engagement.

Professional knowledge

Those topics that make up the subject of accountancy as well as other business disciplines that, together, constitute the essential body of knowledge for professional accountants.

Professional skepticism

An attitude that includes a questioning mind, being alert to conditions which may indicate possible misstatement due to error or fraud, and a critical assessment of evidence

Professional skills

Intellectual, interpersonal and communication, personal, and organizational skills that a professional accountant integrates with technical competence and professional values, ethics, and attitudes to demonstrate professional competence.

Professional values, ethics, and attitudes

The characteristics that identify professional accountants as members of a profession. They include the principles of conduct (e.g., ethical principles) generally associated with and considered essential in defining the distinctive characteristics of, professional behavior.

Qualification

Qualification as a professional accountant means, at a given point in time, an individual is considered to have met, and continues to meet, the requirements for recognition as a professional accountant.

Reflective activity

The iterative process by which professional accountants, at all stages of their career, continue to develop their professional competence by reviewing their experiences (real or simulated) with a view to improving their future actions.

Relevant ethical requirements

Those ethical requirements to which professional accountants are subject, which ordinarily comprise the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants’ International Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants (including International Independence Standards) (IESBA Code) together with any national requirements that are more restrictive.

Reliability (of assessment)

In relation to assessment, whether an assessment activity consistently produces the same result, given the same set of circumstances, quality or state describing whether a measurement approach consistently produces the same result, given the same set of circumstances.

Role

A function that has a specific set of expectations attached.

Specialization

The formal recognition by a member body of a group of its members possessing distinctive competence in a field, or fields, of activity related to the work of the professional accountant.

Sufficiency (of assessment)

In relation to assessment, whether an assessment activity has a balance of depth and breadth, knowledge and application and, combines material from different areas applied to a range of situations and contexts.

Sufficiency (of practical experience)

Whether practical experience has a balance of depth and breadth, knowledge and application and, where appropriate, integration of material from different areas applied to a range of situations and contexts.

The breadth of practical experience is affected by factors such as: nature of role; level of proficiency, prior level of formal education, national or local laws; requirements of regulatory authorities; and the public’s expectation for professional competence.

The depth of practical experience is affected by factors such as: the variety and complexity of tasks; level of supervisory and mentoring support.

Technical competence

Technical competence is defined as the ability to apply professional knowledge to perform a role to a defined standard.

Training

Learning and development activities that complement education and practical experience. Training emphasizes practical application, and is usually conducted in the workplace or a simulated work environment.

Transparency (of assessment)

In relation to assessment, whether details of an assessment activity, such as competence areas to be assessed and timing of the activity, are disclosed publicly.

Validity

Quality or state describing whether a measurement approach measures what needs to be measured.

Verifiable evidence

Evidence that is objective, and capable of being proven and retained.

Work log

A record maintained by an individual of the nature of the assignments and tasks completed, and of the time incurred in completing those assignments and tasks. A work log might also include documentation of competences developed as a result of completing work assignments.

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Description of Levels of Proficiency

This description of levels of proficiency supports the use of learning outcomes in publications on professional accounting education such as IES 2, 3, and 4. It provides descriptions of three levels of proficiency. These descriptions, together with the learning outcomes, provide information to help IFAC member bodies design their professional accounting education programs for a variety of professional accounting roles and specializations.

Level of Proficiency Description

Foundation

Typically, learning outcomes in a competence area focus on:

  • Defining, explaining, summarizing, and interpreting the underlying principles and theories of relevant areas of technical competence to complete tasks while working under appropriate supervision;
  • Performing assigned tasks by using the appropriate professional skills;
  • Recognizing the importance of professional values, ethics, and attitudes in performing assigned tasks;
  • Solving simple problems, and referring complex tasks or problems to supervisors or those with specialized expertise; and
  • Providing information and explaining ideas in a clear manner, using oral and written communications.

Learning outcomes at the foundation level relate to work environments that are characterized by low levels of ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty.

Intermediate

Typically, learning outcomes in a competence area focus on:

  • Independently applying, comparing, and analyzing underlying principles and theories from relevant areas of technical competence to complete work assignments and make decisions;
  • Combining technical competence and professional skills to complete work assignments;
  • Applying professional values, ethics, and attitudes to work assignments; and
  • Presenting information and explaining ideas in a clear manner, using oral and written communications, to accounting and non-accounting stakeholders.

Learning outcomes at the intermediate level relate to work environments that are characterized by moderate levels of ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty.

Advanced

Typically, learning outcomes in a competence area focus on:

  • Selecting and integrating principles and theories from different areas of technical competence to manage and lead projects and work assignments, and to make recommendations appropriate to stakeholder needs;
  • Integrating technical competence and professional skills to manage and lead projects and work assignments;
  • Making judgments on appropriate courses of action drawing on professional values, ethics, and attitudes;
  • Assessing, researching, and resolving complex problems with limited supervision;
  • Anticipating, consulting appropriately, and developing solutions to complex problems and issues; and
  • Consistently presenting and explaining relevant information in a persuasive manner to a wide-range of stakeholders.

Learning outcomes at the advanced level relate to work environments that are characterized by high levels of ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty.