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GUEST ARTICLE | THE IMPORTANCE OF UPSKILLING IN ACCOUNTANCY
Last updated: 07 Nov 2023 09:00
Posted in: AIA
Shaun Barton, Real Business Rescue, looks at what the future holds for the role of the accountant and how upskilling can help us navigate this lifelong journey.
Accountancy is an ever moving and ever changing industry. From the introduction of new technology, through to amendments and updates to regulations, what it means to be an accountant is continually shifting. As the nature of the role changes, so do the skills required to achieve continued success. Ensuring that your skills as an accountant – or those of your employees – are up to date can be done through a process known as upskilling.
Unlike reskilling, which involves learning a whole new set of skills to perform an entirely new role, upskilling refers to honing and developing your existing skill set related to your current role. Upskilling can be seen as an intentional process of continuous learning, which provides a number of benefits to both employees and employers alike.
Within the world of accountancy, upskilling can equip accountants with the necessary skills to perform optimally in an increasingly digitised world, boosting their confidence and adding value in the process. In addition, an upskilled employee provides their employer with the opportunity to deliver a more comprehensive offering and better service to their clients and to remain ahead of their competitors.
How is upskilling achieved?
From an employer’s point of view, upskilling is accomplished by first identifying the skills most important to your organisation. Examine the gap between the skills you want your employees to have and those they currently have – and then work to bridge these gaps by improving knowledge and updating proficiency.
Upskilling is not a one-size-fits-all operation. It can be achieved in a variety of ways, through formal education and training programmes; learning from colleagues through shadowing and secondment opportunities; and attending workshops, webinars and conferences.
Upskilling helps from a compliance perspective, as well as ensuring that you remain relevant and competitive within your role or industry when it comes to the services you can offer clients. It is more than just about keeping up with industry changes, however. Upskilling equips you with the tools you need to use the new environment to your benefit, helping to drive real growth and add value.
If you want to put yourself in the best possible position for career growth, it’s time to seriously consider upskilling.
Accountancy: a changing industry
While upskilling is a deliberate process, there are some instances where you may have no choice but to ensure that your skills and knowledge are updated. Digital and technological advancements are changing the landscape of accounting at an unstoppable pace, and there is a real risk that those accountants who fail to adapt will get left behind. Building the skills necessary to manage and embrace this new technology in an increasingly digitised world will help you to increase efficiency and accuracy, ensuring that you are keeping up with your peers.
Digital enhancements within accountancy
The speed of digitisation within accountancy has been rapid, and much automation and recently developed technology is now becoming commonplace within an accountant’s day to day working life. Application programming interfaces (APIs), automation and the continuing development of artificial intelligence are having a huge impact on many elements of the job that have traditionally been done manually.
These advances now make it possible for data to be extracted and shared easily and effectively using APIs. Artificial intelligence is able to process huge amounts of data accurately and almost instantly – in many cases negating the need for a human to complete the time-consuming, manual work that used to be a central part of an accountant’s role.
It is almost guaranteed that accountancy will become more and more automated over time. You will put yourself in a better position if you stop seeing these advancements as a threat, and start to embrace them by leveraging them to your advantage. See upskilling not only for the immediate improvements it can realise, but as a way of future-proofing your career for the long-term.
The changing role of the accountant
The time savings brought about by increased digitisation frees up valuable resources which can be directed towards strengthening client relations and providing clients with strategic advice.
The accountant of the future will require a diverse skill set, going beyond being ‘good with numbers’. Being able to offer compelling insights, robust advice and act as a strategic partner will be increasingly seen as the primary function of an accountant, as automation relieves many of the manual elements of the role.
The importance of both hard and soft skills
When it comes to identifying areas ripe for upskilling, you should not limit yourself to merely the technical skills you need to succeed in your role. Particularly as automation continues to step in to complete the more routine manual accountancy tasks, it’s important to ensure that your ‘soft’ skills are honed, as well as your ‘hard’ operational skills.
This could involve improving your ability to communicate effectively with clients by refining your communication skills and your ability to deliver strategic advice in a clear and concise manner. Being adept at critical thinking, time management and problem solving is becoming just as important as being able to interpret the data in front of you.
As these soft skills become more essential, ensuring that you are a well-rounded employer will ultimately allow you to add more value to the firm, as well as giving you an edge over your contemporaries, who may neglect these areas during their own upskilling journeys.
Boosting retention and enhancing career development
Upskilling is not just something that employees need to think about; it is just as important for employers to understand the benefits that upskilling their staff brings. Continued directed learning stops complacency from setting in and keep employees excited about their roles. This in turn increases productivity and creates the perfect environment for growth both for the individual and also the organisation as a whole.
The changes brought about by widespread remote working over the past few years means that competition for talented accountants has increased. No longer restricted by geographical constraints, the world has opened up to those seeking more challenging opportunities who would have otherwise been out of reach when office attendance was mandatory.
Offering upskilling opportunities is an extremely useful, yet underutilised, tool in the armoury for smaller firms, in particular when looking to retain staff and stop them heading for the door.
Making further training and upskilling opportunities available to staff is a great way of rewarding ambitious employees who are keen to grow and develop in their role. Not only does this help with the retention of key employees, but also increases their contribution and the value they add to the firm.
Allocating resources to upskilling should be viewed as a vital use of budget – one which can reap a variety of rewards. Investing in your people is one of the best ways of investing in your business as a whole. A better trained and more knowledgeable workforce makes for a company better placed to seize growth and expansion opportunities.
A skills gap analysis identifies gaps; upskilling helps to bridge these gaps.
If you are an employer looking to upskill your workforce, you will need to identify ambitious staff who you believe would be suitable to step up and who would both benefit from, and appreciate, the opportunity to boost their current skill sets. Involve your team in this process; after all, they are likely to have an idea of the type of training they would like based on their own career objectives. One-to-one meetings can help you develop personal development plans for employees across the business, which can act as the basis for both immediate and future upskilling endeavours.
Upskilling: a lifelong journey
Remember, upskilling should be seen as a continuous process rather than a one-off event. Accountancy isn’t standing still, and neither should you! Upskilling is a lifelong journey and something which needs to be revisited multiple times across your career to ensure resilience and adaptability – no matter what the future looks like for accountants.
Addressing the skills gap
If you are sold on the benefits of upskilling, the next step is to put together a plan to bring this to life. It sounds obvious, but the first step towards embarking on an upskilling programme is to have a sound understanding of the areas where your organisation – or you as an individual – actually need upskilling. This is done through a process known as a skills gap analysis.
A skills gap analysis helps to highlight the discrepancy between the skills an employer wants an employee to have, and the skills the employee actually has. Don’t just focus on the short term during a skills gap analysis. Identify possible areas for growth or change in your firm and also the wider accountancy industry, and assess how sufficient your current skills are for getting you to where you need to be. Once you have identified the skills you need to brush up on, the upskilling process can begin in earnest.
Shaun Barton is a partner at Real Business Rescue, specialising in providing insolvency advice to directors of distressed companies.