From education to employment

Harnessing productivity through skills – from puzzle to plan​

Andrew Harding

In 2019, CIMA, one of the founding bodies of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, celebrated 100 years of serving business. For the anniversary, we published a short history of the organisation, including how much our skillset has changed over that time . Comparing our original syllabus with our most recent one, you might think you are looking at two different professions.

Our present students learn about cybersecurity and robotic process automation among other areas. It is a world away from requirements to pass exams in quadratic equations, or an ability to “translate an easy passage” into another language. As an organisation geared towards employability and producing professionals whose expertise can be trusted, we live by the mantra, “Learn, Unlearn, Relearn”.

Although some of our core proficiencies are the same, we have had to change others to meet technological progress – the rate of which is accelerating. IBM estimates the half-life of a skill is about five years, with that of more technical skills being around half that again. The pandemic has brought this speed of change into very clear focus as many companies were forced with the decision to change their business models and survive, or risk going bust.

Our members told us that COVID-19 has brought significant workplace changes, with an increase in working from home being the most well-documented. As well as requiring the self-sufficiency to manage things like minor tech issues, homeworkers need to be even more self-motivated as they are not in the office environment where it is easier to be in work mode.

When we carried out research for this year’s Mind the Skills Gap report, we found that despite the pandemic and  Brexit, employees in small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were not updating their skillsets fast enough to meet this new reality. Less than a fifth (16%) of SME employees are currently undertaking skills training or professional development, and only 18% expect to undertake training in the next 12 months.

The most common gaps relate to digital skills (42%) such as e-commerce, coding, data analytics, cybersecurity, and cloud computing, health and safety (37%), and people management and leadership skills (33%). Of those undergoing training, or about it, only a quarter see digital skills as vital.

This is not a new problem. Employers have long reported they have difficulty sourcing people with higher technical skills.

If we are to build a sustainable recovery and a workforce fit for that, we have to fix this problem. This year, the Association submitted recommendations to government to help. I am pleased to report that the government has adopted some of those suggestions, including a voucher scheme to support digital technology adoption among SMEs as part of its Help to Grow: Digital Programme. The next step is understanding why employees do not see digital skills as vital; surely the world has changed enough in the past 18 months or so to make that plain?

We cannot afford to put off investment in skills, that would be a false economy. Investing now and consistently in the future will help us grow our economy, create well paid jobs and more confidently manage unexpected events.

Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA, Chief Executive – Management Accounting at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, representing AICPA & CIMA

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