I have been privileged to address the graduates, from basic to postgraduate education. Whatever the details, I conclude every commencement speech thus: Continue learning, because times change rapidly and various skills soon become obsolete.
Some requisites are timeless, such as critical thinking and analysis, communication and collaboration.
But as any IT professional would attest, long-ago languages such as Pascal and Fortran have been replaced by R and Python, which themselves are likely to undergo iterations soon.
But disruptions do not just happen in IT. Formerly staid occupations such as accounting are also affected.
At Singapore’s CPA Congress in October 2017, Ernst & Young and CPA Australia released a survey covering 150 accounting and finance professionals in the country. Of this number, 79 percent say they are not equipped with enough skills to do their jobs well in the next decade.
“The main factors preventing them from acquiring new skills include lack of time (73 percent), financial resources (45 percent) and employer support (37 percent),” The Straits Times reports.
Singapore, more than most countries, has put training systems in place, such as night classes in colleges and universities, to aid working professionals. (I have attended adult math classes that aim to upgrade the skills of teachers, and I have been impressed with the quality of the instructor and the enthusiasm of the learners.)
However, “according to the survey, six in 10 found the current curriculum offered by education and professional bodies insufficient to develop skills to help them down the track. A similar number said their organizations are not helping them to do so.”
Change disruptors such as digital technologies and increasing globalization are cause for worry. Respondents demand training for skills ranging from strategic thinking and business acumen, influencing capabilities and advisory skills, to digital and information management skills, data mining and statistical analysis.
Gone are the days when accountants work by their lonesome in cubicles. In many family businesses, accountants have taken on major roles—often outside their specified area of expertise.
Vincent Toong of Ernst & Young tells Straits, “As accounting professionals are increasingly being asked to be business advisers to other functions in their organizations, it is not surprising that strategic thinking and business acumen and leadership skills rank high.”
If finance professionals in a developed country are sounding the alarm, what about other nations such as ours, where quality training barely exists?
Four family businesses I talked to admit their accountants and finance managers can barely keep up with routine work, are not computer-savvy, and are ignorant of the latest developments in the field.
These founders admit they do not provide incentives for their professionals for further training.
But three of the four also say their employees do not want to “go back to school.”
“Our people, even if their performance is below par, are satisfied with their current situation,” says one founder.
“After work, they just want to go home and relax. Even if we paid them extra for night or weekend classes, they will not take the offer. No motivation. Sad to say, our people are okay with mediocrity.”
After talking with eight accountants and finance personnel in these family businesses, I am forced to agree with the founders’ observations.
Only one young accountant (in her mid-20s) is eager to take new courses (she identified tax laws and labor laws) if given the chance. Another three say they will attend further training if they are “ordered” to do so, with the company paying for the courses and allowing them to leave the office earlier.
The remaining half say they are “too busy and tired” to learn new things.
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