Over the past few months I’ve been doing more Excel training than usual and regularly, at about this time of year, I train the new student intake for several firms of accountants. Since they keep inviting me back year after year I assume that the firms find the training useful. However, I am sure that other organisations assume that there is no need to train new recruits as they will have gained more than adequate skills in ‘basic’ software packages through school and possibly university.
I am sure that some students do indeed acquire pretty good levels of general software skills during their time in the education system, but in my experience there are two significant issues:
- The level of software expertise varies dramatically from student to student;
- Competence in the mechanics of using a spreadsheet doesn’t necessarily result in the ability to use spreadsheets appropriately and reliably in a business environment.
This led me to considering the ‘minimum’ level of spreadsheet skills and knowledge for someone using spreadsheets in business.
Here’s my initial set of ideas – comments, additions and disagreements welcome.
Basic formulae entry
Creating references to other cells in the same sheet, another sheet in the same workbook and a cell in a different workbook, including an appreciation of the dangers of referring from one workbook to another.
Using the basic mathematical operators – plus, minus, multiply and divide – including an understanding of the order of mathematical operations and the importance of brackets.
Understanding absolute and relative cell references, including partially absolute references.
Understanding the use of range names.
Use of Excel functions
Understanding some basic Excel functions:
- LEFT(), RIGHT() and MID()
Understanding how to use the ‘Insert function’ button to search for functions, enter function arguments correctly and read the help on specific functions.
Understanding how easy it is for functions to return incorrect answers if arguments are not entered correctly.
Appropriate uses of spreadsheets and what not to use spreadsheets for.
The dangers of spreadsheets – how the lack of structure makes spreadsheets very error-prone.
Basic design concepts – the importance of separating data and formulae, organising spreadsheet contents, cell locking and worksheet and workbook protection, input data validation.
The importance of documentation – comments for individual cells and separate sheets to document important information about the spreadsheet.
The importance of building in checks and controls and exception reports.
The importance of testing.
How to create and use an Excel template.
Copy and paste and the use of the fill handle for copying and for extending lists of months and days.
Basic formatting including applying number and date formats.
Additional Excel features
Knowledge of the existence of:
- Conditional formatting
- Lists (Excel 2003) and Tables (2007,2010)
So is this list fair? What does it include that isn’t necessary for someone using a spreadsheet in business? What vital things have I missed out?