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Accounting skills needed to beat the skills gap

More accountants believe recruiting talent has gotten harder in the last four years as they point to changing skills the industry will need in the new decade 

 

The accounting industry’s skills gap has increased in the last four years, with nearly two thirds of accounting professionals claiming it has become harder to recruit qualified staff, compared to 51% who said the same in 2016. 

That is one of the major findings in our recent report – Understanding Technology Attitudes within UK Finance Professionals  which asked 1,000 accounting and finance professionals for their thoughts on current and future sector trends and challenges. 

The UK has been in the grip of a perceived skills and productivity crisis for nearly a decade now, with PwC highlighting it as a significant challenge to companies across all industries. 

Our research further underpins the challenge faced by accounting teams, with the fact that the problem is seemingly getting worse sure to worry a number of accounting firms, as well as corporate finance teams. 

However, solving today’s skills gap is only one part of the issue uncovered in our report, with the 1,000 accounting and finance professionals in our research also pointing to a change in emphasis of the skills needed by the industry going forward. 

Analytical skills giving way to soft skills 

A key trend in our research is the fact that the majority of accountants predict a shift away from analytical and data entry skills (which are deemed most important today) towards a broader range of “soft skills” and the ability to use accounting specific software. 

For example, while the majority (56%) of accountants say they are currently carrying out tasks manually that could be automated, only 43% believe this will continue beyond 2020. 

Similarly, while 41% of accountants view analytical skills as among the most important today, 37% believe these skills will still be needed in the next five. 

The same goes for the ability to accurately record data, with just 41% believing this will be a key accounting skill in the next five years, compared to 61% who view it is essential today. 

These downward trends in more “traditional” skills, are in stark contrast to those predicted to be needed in the future. 

For instance, 30% of accountants predict financial reporting will become a key skill by 2024, compared to the 25% who said it was important today. A third also said that using accounting specific software is going to become essential in the next few years for compliance with reporting regulations and Making Tax Digital – that is compared to 24% today. 

2020 the decade of automation? 

Much has been made about the introduction of automation technology into the accountancy profession and it is something that already plays a large role in those forward thinking organisations and firms. 

Whether this next decade will mark the start of the real automation revolution remains to be seen, but clearly those accountants who took part in this study expect this is the direction will take. 

At the very least, accountants recognise the role technology is having, and is going to have on their day-to-day jobs as they start to take on new expectations and a more consultative role for clients. 

The challenge for the industry now is whether it has the skills – or focus on training – to take on this new, more strategic focused role. 

Given that accountants believe the skills gap in accountancy is getting worse in the face of a changing skills landscape, our research suggest there is serious doubt about the industry’s ability (on the whole) to be able to handle the changes. 

It is definitely something accountants and finance teams should be looking to address in their firms and organisations as soon as possible. 

Recruiting and training for a changing skills requirement 

According to a PwC Workforce for the Future report, 59% of employees believe they are not being provided with the skills and training they need to be successful in their careers. 

The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) has also called for a change in attitude when it comes to accountancy training. 

If accountants are meant to act in a more consultative and advisory role, communications and financial reporting training is going to be a must for tomorrow’s talent. 

Similarly, while automation is taking away much of the data entry – and some of the analysis – accountants must become more proficient at interpreting financial information and reporting on key findings, trends and offer advice and guidance. 

Finally, a real focus must be put on training on accounting software to ensure accountants can meet financial reporting requirements and not subject clients to enforcement. 

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