During these troubled economic times, one might predict that organizations would want their accounting and finance employees to brush up on their knowledge and stay sharp. However, upon closer glance, more than a few companies are choosing to strike while the irony is hot.

Nearly one-fifth of chief financial officers have no plans to invest in training for their accounting and finance staff within the next two years, according to a survey from Accountemps, a division of consulting and professional staffing firm Robert Half International.

"Firms that don't offer training for their teams risk falling behind their competitors that do, from a productivity standpoint," says Sharon Turner, district president for the Northern California and Honolulu operations of Robert Half International.

Furthermore, if productivity is affected by a lack of training, retention and attraction can be affected shortly thereafter. Turner comments that companies that do not invest in the growth of their employees can have a hard time holding on to their top performers, not to mention attracting new ones.

The national survey, which was based on 1,400 telephone interviews with CFOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees, asked what types of skills training CFOs were likely to invest in over the next two years.

Additional results showed that of those CFOs who were going to invest in training, 30 percent rated IT as their top education choice, while 26 percent chose accounting and finance, 16 percent chose management, and 8 percent chose soft skills. The high numbers for IT training could have to do with the way that the accounting and finance industries are headed.

"Industry trends such as the impending U.S. adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are driving demand for professionals with IT systems proficiency and expertise with new regulations and reporting standards," notes Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps.

Aside from making technology training a priority, however, emphasis should still be placed on other areas such as soft skills and management, which are often overlooked for accounting and finance professionals.

Turner notes that, "accounting and finance professionals must be able to collaborate and communicate with a number of different audiences, including internal and external clients, colleagues from other departments, and senior managers, many of whom may not possess the same level of financial expertise."

Training spending does not need to be exorbitant and can remain within an extremely reasonable range when organizations are planning for the future. There are plenty of low-cost and no-cost options to develop a healthy, ongoing learning environment in the workplace.

Affordable staff development options include group membership in professional organizations, mentorships, in-house trainings such as brown-bag sessions or e-learning courses, and reimbursement for expenses related to tuition, continuing education for certifications, or outside courses and seminars.

"Employers can ask personnel who have recently participated in a training course or are subject matter experts to share their knowledge with the rest of the team," adds Turner.