Mega trends are reshaping the world around us, especially our professional lives. Automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing are all key drivers of the fourth industrial revolution.
Accounting and finance functions are feeling this wave of change acutely. According to research for a Robert Half report, technological advancement is causing finance and accounting roles to evolve rapidly, leading to the demand for new skills.
‘As organisations begin the process of adopting new technologies to gain competitive advantage, we have seen job descriptions and candidate requirements evolve at an accelerated rate,’ said Matt Weston, managing director of Robert Half UK.
The embracing of digitisation is steadily removing manual tasks from the finance function and demanding that professionals focus on developing advanced skills in business partnering, data analysis and more strategic identification of business growth opportunities, said Weston.
‘Digital skills have become a significant focus – 71% of employers have told us they struggle to find candidates who have the necessary skills and experience in this area.’
James Poyser, CEO of Provestor, an online accountant for property investors, and inniAccounts, an online accountancy for contractors, agrees to the point that he has set up an in-office training centre dedicated to helping people build the skills they need to manage an AI world.
‘Being good at maths will no longer make you a good accountant,’ he says. ‘Computers are simply better at the majority of the straightforward technical work, which means that the majority of this work in the majority of practices/companies will eventually go this way.’
This, Poyser believes, will ultimately lead to fewer technical roles and the ones that remain will be held by highly skilled people who will address the client problems too complex for algorithms.
‘If you’re not one of these few technical experts, then you will have to adapt,’ he said. ‘An aptitude for empathy and helpfulness, an ability to look beyond the numbers to provide the strategic advisory services people will expect, and a growth mindset – in this case, one that means people understand automation and how to harness it in context – will be vital.
‘We know from recruitment drives that there are few people with those skills at the moment, so if you have them you can stand out.’
‘Future-proofing a career is as much about developing your soft skills as your technical ability… Demonstrating good communication skills and collaborative abilities will be key to future-proofing your success in finance’
So the motivations are clear, but how do you become one of the people who ‘stand out’?
To be skill-ready for this situation, technical qualifications are only the start, said Weston. ‘Future-proofing a career is as much about developing your soft skills as your technical ability. In recent years, we have seen employers place greater value on soft skills; 57% of business leaders have said that this will be their focus for the immediate future. Demonstrating good communication skills and collaborative abilities will be key to future-proofing your success in finance.’
‘The future of tech is boundless, but professionals can mitigate the impact by ensuring they have honed the soft skills needed to support their ability to upskill quickly. Also, adopting a culture of lifelong learning will ensure that your skills don’t get left behind.’
Pro-active, resilient and adaptable
This pro-active approach is also important to Poyser, who advises taking on special projects at work that are outside of your role; or when job-hunting, looking for companies that are investing in new technologies and skills, and demonstrating to them an aptitude to learn and an appreciation of the concepts; or in your spare time doing things that are completely different or finding ways to learn new skills until you’re ready to make the change.
‘For example, volunteering is a good way to try your skills out and perhaps uncover ones you didn’t know you had because you don’t use them day-to-day,’ he said. ‘It’s also a really good way to improve your listening skills in an alien environment – a skill that will be fundamental to advisory practice.’
In order to keep up with the quickening pace of technology, CFOs want candidates who are adaptable and resilient in their approach to work, said Weston. The key takeaway is that skill sets are changing constantly, but there are several actions you can take, resources you can consult, including a salary guide, and by taking a forward-looking approach to workplace technology adoption.
Nikos Andriotis, of online learning solution TalentLMS, shares his top tips on upskilling
Follow a personalised development plan
A thorough needs analysis will reveal the type and level of training that each employee needs most. The next step is to draw up a personal development plan with clear training goals for employees to achieve. With input from their managers, employees can use these plans to guide their improvement and track their progress.
Upskilling supported by mentors
Mentorship and learning by example are major e-learning trends. Why is mentorship experiencing such popularity? Because learning from another employee not only makes use of the desire for social learning but also helps learners to keep developing their skills long after the initial training.
Include real-life case studies and simulations
Busy employees need training that gets right to the point. Give your training a practical edge by making good use of relatable case studies and realistic simulations.