The recent PwC 'Workforce for the Future' report stated that 59% of employees believe they are not being provided with the skills and training they need to be successful in their careers.
In the accounting world, automation is taking away much of the data entry and some of the analysis that accountants have spent years finessing.
Therefore, accountants must become more proficient at interpreting financial information, reporting on key findings, identifying trends and offering advice and guidance to clientele. This means that new starts and the older generation alike will have to be trained upon a different set of skills.
So how can accounting firms address the skills gap appropriately to meet the changing requirements of the industry? Keep reading to find out some actionable tips to upskill your workforce.
A recent survey by BlackLine Inc. revealed that 31% of CFOs globally don't think they have enough people with software and technology experience within the finance function of their company. This highlights a significant skills gap that means that financial advisors and accountants alike may lack the ability to provide the consultancy, analysis, planning and due diligence required to support broader business goals across various industries.
The industry at large is still focused on the technical skills of auditing, calculation and tax qualification, which are still relevant and essential. However, accounting firms need to supplement this learning with data and digital skills. This deficiency was highlighted by the pandemic when companies required digital capabilities to carry out remote work in the first place.
Traditionally, accounting courses focused on giving students the knowledge to provide accounting services like money management, financial recording, reporting, tax and auditing. Theory and accounting basics are still necessary, but now accountants are much more than number crunchers.
Technology has taken the time-consuming work out of manual accounting and changed the profession. Employers are increasingly aware of the need for their new and older employees to understand emerging technologies, including blockchain, XBRL, robotics, cloud computing, data analytics and cyber security.
So, let's look at how firms can ensure that they allow their graduates, more established employees, and even contractors to learn and develop to close the accounting skills gap.
First of all, you should ensure all employees are given time to dedicate to their professional development. By integrating learning into their working hours, you can incentivise employees to develop their skills and hone what they've learned by applying it to their work tasks later.
An hour a week is an excellent place to start if you haven't yet made learning and development a priority.
You could pair senior accountants with graduates or junior accountants once you have assessed learning needs. Then set up regular meetings between the individuals to facilitate the transfer of knowledge.
The idea is that the older, more experienced employees can support the newer recruits with issues they've never worked through before or help them work through complex problems with another pair of eyes to guide them.
However, given the skills gap broadly covers digital skills, you might want to consider two-way mentoring. Older employees can still pass their knowledge and experience on to younger accountants to help them with the real-life application of their financial skills. Still, younger employees could also support their mentors in this situation by giving advice or guidance on digital skills that older accountants may be unfamiliar with.
Youtube and Online Resources
With video content booming, it makes sense to utilise as many free resources as you can. Youtube is the world's second-biggest search engine (after Google), so there likely is a Youtube series that discusses the exact software you use at your firm, or there could be a helpful refresher course online that helps your staff upskill in practices they haven't used in a while.
Research video content that could help supplement your employees' work to give them as many learning opportunities as possible.
Many universities or online educational institutions are now offering digital courses that are integrated with their accounting classes. You could start your graduates on these courses right away or invest in some digital learning for other employees to understand more about the digital future of accounting.
Nano learning is the term for short-form learning in more compact increments. Instead of offering one hour per week, perhaps you could change this to fifteen minutes per day. The idea is that learning can be absorbed more efficiently in more digestible short periods and won't interrupt usual business activities as much as a larger chunk of time.
When offering learning opportunities, it's up to your firm if you want to test your employees progress. One way to do this could be to use real-life applications of the skills they've been developing in order to see if their skills have advanced.
For graduates, you could give them an exercise with actual client data to ensure they can work in a real working environment without the risk of time pressure or client input. Companies could do the same skills test for accountants who are unfamiliar with digital processes or new software to make sure that all employees are on the same skill level to accommodate the changing requirements of the industry.
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