The ethics and compliance space is a rapidly shifting, accelerating field of work and study that is affecting an expanding number of industries and organizations. In order to thrive during this time of expansion and change, it is crucial for the industry to attract talent with diverse backgrounds and experiences. It is also important that E&C practitioners develop a wide array of soft and hard skills, continuing their professional development throughout the course of their careers.

By asking yourself the following 5 questions, based on research found in our Essential Skills & Qualities of the E&C Professional Whitepaper, you can chart a path for your professional success, determine what steps you can take to advance and fully understand the changes that are taking place in the industry that could affect your career.

Should I become a specialist or a generalist?

According to recent ECI research, practitioners currently in the field do not fit one specific profile. Instead, the ethics and compliance space is made up of professionals with a mix of educational backgrounds and career paths that led them to the field. Common academic and professional paths to E&C include general bachelor’s degrees in business or other fields (59%), post-graduate education including JD, LLM and other fields of study (46%), professional certificates and ethics and compliance training (23%) and more.

However, this trend does seem to be changing. It is predicted that in the next 5-10 years, more specialized education in ethics and compliance will be crucial for success as a practitioner. A large majority of practitioners  said that Bachelor’s degrees with specializations in compliance, ethics or law would be necessary for incoming and practicing E&C professionals, as well as attaining professional certification in ethics & compliance.

“Practitioners should consider what professional profile – a combination of education, expertise, personal qualities, and degree of specialty – fits their skills and interests. Meanwhile, organizational managers should consider the balance of generalists and specialists needed to create a well-rounded staff…”

Download the full whitepaper, Essential Skills & Qualities of the Ethics & Compliance Professional: Today and in the Future

Do I need a JD or law degree to be successful in E&C now? In the future?

It is no surprise that the JD or LLM has had a firm place in the educational experiences of many ethics and compliance professionals. While about one-quarter of current practitioners surveyed hold such degrees, nearly 50% of senior managers polled said that law degrees were the most valuable for E&C professionals, indicating that there is a perception that JDs and/or LLMs are necessary to advance to the next level, or that if top managers currently hold those levels of education, they are more likely to promote those that are similarly credentialed.

Data table of common E&C educational achievements

Most common degrees and certifications achieved by ethics and compliance professionals.

But as more organizations begin to understand ethics and compliance as a business imperative and overall profit-center, the need for E&C-specific education and professional certifications will rise. This includes professional certifications like LPEC and E&C specific undergraduate and graduate programs.

Other key questions to consider:

  1. For practitioners: What educational degrees and efforts can cultivate my advancement in the E&C profession
    and beyond?
  2. For organizational managers: What educational guidance can I give team members that will also help me
    cultivate a well-rounded team? What educational backgrounds should I look for in new hires?
  3. For educators: Is there demand in my market for non-degree E&C certificate programs and/or specialized
    degree programs, and what are my institution’s capabilities to deliver them?

Is a successful ethics and compliance program
technical skills based, soft skills based, or both?

“Ethics and compliance” by its very title almost seems to be separated into two classes of skills. Ethics, with an emphasis on leadership building, “tone from the top”, developing cultures of integrity and other “soft” skills; and compliance, with an emphasis on investigations, reporting and hotline software platforms, risk management tools and data and other technical analysis skills.

As ethics and compliance embraces new technology in inventive ways, especially in the form of artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data, how necessary is it to cultivate technical skills alongside long-established leadership and culture building skills?

The truth is, that while there is no doubt that data analytics and new technologies in E&C are a part of the new paradigm, the fundamentals of building High-Quality Ethics & Compliance Programs (HQP) will remain of utmost importance to ethics and compliance leaders. E&C leaders must know how to build teams that are trained on new uses of data and technology, so that they can base their human decisions on the latest, most accurate data.

Should you focus on tactical excellence or strategic influence?

This question comes down to whether effective HQPs in organizations are reactive versus proactive. Some practitioners and E&C functions may put greater emphasis on the reactive, by following their established protocols for investigations, reporting, misconduct and other tactical work necessary to achieve short-term goals. However, sole emphasis on these short-term goals may dilute the broader scope of the E&C function, which most practitioners feel “also has a strategic role to perform as a guardian of the ethical foundations – mission and values – of their organizations.”

Having a strong base of ethics and compliance program excellence can both address tactical needs as well as influence the way their organizations implements its values and mission.

What motivates you in your career?

“My work in E&C has meaning and purpose because of the ability to live out my personal values on the job. My work in E&C has meaning and purpose because I am bringing order to chaos. My work in E&C has meaning and purpose because my passion is helping.”

More than 83% of E&C professionals feel compelled to perform the work that they do because of the personal satisfaction they receive for it. However, only 71% and 59% of those surveyed feel that they are fairly compensated for their work and feel that they have a clear direction for professional advancement, respectively.

Could these “pay and profession gaps” create a both an advancement ceiling for those in the profession, or a barrier-to-entry for talented individuals who feel that E&C may limit their career trajectory?

Practitioners should consider why they are motivated to work in E&C and whether the value they provide is reflected in the value – prestige, pay, and professional opportunity – they receive.

Organizational managers should consider how they can communicate the value that E&C creates – in addition to the value that it preserves and protects – to support their team members’ material needs, career goals, and job satisfaction.

Educators should consider integrating reflection on professionalism and work meaning into their programs.

What’s next?

For current E&C practitioners and those planning a career in the E&C space, knowing more about where the industry is headed can help you plan for a satisfying career in the field, as well as ensure that you are fully prepared to embrace any changes that may arise in a rapidly transforming field.

Download the full whitepaper, Essential Skills & Qualities of the Ethics & Compliance Professional: Today and in the Future, for exclusive data on current skills, future needs and more to understand today’s E&C professionals, including how and why they succeed, where they see the industry headed in the future and what senior-level managers and the C-suite will look for in determining future E&C leaders.

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By: Brad Fulton