Technology has facilitated vast change in the workplace – and will continue to do so well after many of us have retired. Robots, bots (yes, there’s a difference), and automation are among these change-making technologies. As they advance, jobs and careers must evolve for the workforce to remain viable.
While new and more relevant courses are appearing in colleges around the US, recent college graduates may not realize that education doesn’t end when they’re handed their diplomas. Primary, secondary, and tertiary schooling are only a small part of the education equation for tomorrow’s workforce. What’s next? Employers play a critical role in continuing learning beyond formal education – they keep the ball rolling.
Important elements of the equation include: lifelong learning, willingness to adapt, and commitment from both the employer and employee. Going forward, it is crucial that all these elements work in harmony with each other. Lifelong learning is the outcome of proactive participation from the employee and employer. Developing new skills along the employee’s entire career path ensures they’re never standing still.
At EY, we’re witnessing shifts in the business landscape that dramatically demonstrate why now is a critical time to ensure employees are continually learning. Business and tax issues have become increasingly complex across multiple jurisdictions, meaning it’s no longer efficient or effective to have humans manually executing repetitive data analysis-based tasks when they could instead be focused on resolving more complex issues. Software bots can do the manual tasks much faster, at higher quality, and at less cost. Robotic Process Automation (RPA), for example, has emerged as a major tool in taking on mundane, repetitive compliance and data-gathering tasks previously performed by tax accountants.
Human time can now be spent on more strategic matters, including project management, process improvement, tax planning, business problem solving, data interpretation, and complex decision making. This isn’t news to EY people. Our focus on both lifelong learning and significant use of RPA stems from the need to be proactive in training and equipping employees for the skills of the future.
It was out of this commitment to future preparedness that the EY Talent Team created Elite Skills Week. Launched in October 2017, Elite Skills Week is a distinctive learning experience that brings participants together to develop, collaborate, and apply their new knowledge.
We identified five future skills tax professionals need to grow and developed a learning experience around each one:
- Mindfulness: In today’s world of constant distractions, work demands, and technology notifications, it’s difficult to stay focused on complex work. Learning how to “be present” helps professionals maintain steady interpersonal interactions, concentrate on challenging, strategic tasks, and reduce time spent toggling between competing demands.
- Lean Six Sigma: This process improvement methodology has had proven successful over several decades, though previously its use has not been applied in the tax profession. Since tax work often involves detailed processes and handoffs between team members, this methodology is useful as an internal review, as well as an external service offering when working with tax and finance departments.
- RPA: Understanding how to identify areas in a process that can be automated and how that automation happens is critical to allowing tax professionals to focus on high-value tasks.
- Excel modeling: As volumes of data increase and grow more complex, tax professionals need the tools and knowledge to organize, analyze, and report on it in a repeatable, time-efficient way.
- Data visualization: Once analyzed, data must be presented in a visual and illustrative manner to convey complicated perspectives in a meaningful way. Data visualization helps professionals see patterns and hone-in on pertinent information that can be presented in formats that contribute to guiding actionable insights.
The Elite Skills Week program includes a combination of instructor-led courses, outside speakers, teaming activities, and plenary sessions. Our third Elite Skills Week held in May 2018 further developed our professionals and contributed to their lifelong learning experience. This program is just one example of how lifelong learning can be embedded into the workforce to help ensure employees are equipped with future-focused skills.