FOR MOST WORKING professionals, a return to the classroom is a matter of choice. If they want to get a promotion, find a better job or switch careers they can enrol in a programme to gain expertise, learn new skills or add value to their resume. But for some, a periodic return to the classroom is mandatory. Accountants need to complete at least 120 hours of relevant Continuing Professional Development (CPD) every three years to maintain their membership in the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA). 'A periodic return to the classroom is necessary for two reasons,' said Suzanne Liu Duddek, certified public accountant (practising), S. Liu & Co, Chartered Accountants & Certified Public Accountants. 'The first is to fulfil your CDP requirement. The second is globalisation. As Thomas Friedman said in The World Is Flat - A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, 'With the advance of the internet, the world has become a village'. Information has been accumulating at an exponential rate. We need to keep up to date with the ever-changing business world to remain competitive.' The HKICPA has 25,941 members, of whom 3,535 are practising certificate holders, and CPD is mandatory for all of them. They must complete at least 120 hours of relevant CPD activity every three years, of which 60 hours should be verifiable. At least 20 hours of this total must be completed each year. They also need to maintain records of their studies for a minimum of five years. 'The ever-changing technical and professional environment of the accountancy profession demands that members must constantly update their knowledge and skills to maintain their professional competence,' Ms Liu Duddek said. 'It is not possible to achieve this purely through work experience. Effective CPD is a way to acquire professional and technical expertise and business, interpersonal or management skills. This will enhance public confidence in accountants.' Accountants have a variety of options open to them as to where and what they study. They can take courses and attend conferences and seminars. They can engage in on-the-job training or mentoring. They can publish in professional or academic journals or sit professional examinations. HKICPA offers classes, as do some of the leading chambers of commerce. The Hong Kong Association of Accounting, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, the Association for Investment Management Research, the Hong Kong Association of Accounting Technicians, the Hong Kong Management Association, Chu Hai College, Caritas, and the community college and continuing education arms of local universities are just a few of the many institutions offering courses that will satisfy CPD requirements. 'You need to evaluate your studies in terms of their relevance to your work,' Ms Duddek said. 'Also, it depends on your plans, in particular, your career path. If you decide to study full time, you may have to put your career on hold or resign from your job. Most adults would opt for evenings or weekends, distance learning or e-learning as they can continue to work while undertaking their studies. Some employers may sponsor their employees by offering partial or full financial assistance on courses relevant to their jobs.' One of the keys to balancing the conflicting demands of work, study and family is careful time management. 'It is not difficult if you're good at time management and write down your goals and set about achieving them,' Ms Liu Duddek said. 'If you want to obtain an MBA studying part time, allot yourself two years to achieve this.' The best way to cope was to have good time management and set priorities for the tasks at hand, she said. 'There are two important tips. The first is time management. Read books and attend seminars on effective time management. I recommend reading Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. Use information technology to help you manage your time and plan and prioritise your tasks. Calendar and Tasks in Microsoft Office Outlook are very efficient time management tools.' The second tip is to set goals. 'If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,' Ms Liu Duddek said. 'Plan your work and work your plan. Have a written plan with goals and objectives and keep updating it.'