Emerging CPAs will make themselves more valuable by upskilling, which in turn creates more company value.
According to PwC’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey, 74% of CEOs are concerned about the availability of key skills in the workplace.1 PwC defines upskilling as giving “employees opportunities to gain the knowledge, tools, and ability they need to use advanced and ever-changing technologies in the workplace.”2 Mark A. Cohen, founder and CEO of Legal Mosaic, provides a unique perspective on upskilling based on macro and micro levels. From a big-picture perspective, upskilling depicts “a tectonic shift in the workplace caused by technology,” while the small-picture perspective describes upskilling as “the process of individuals learning new skills.”3 An example of a macro-level upskill would be the adoption of fully automated processes or artificial intelligence; whereas a micro-level upskill would be learning a new accounting software system.
Upskilling is gaining importance within major public accounting firms. PwC committed $3 billion toward upskilling its workforce over a four-year period by sending employees back to the classroom to improve their digital proficiency and to help clients with their productivity initiatives. PwC also developed a digital fitness app that assesses an individual’s familiarity with digital technology. Upon completion of this assessment, the app suggests resources for learning and improvement of digital skills.4
Deloitte has also invested in an upskilling initiative. The firm recently committed $2 billion to upskill and reskill its employees. Deloitte’s training program focused on upskilling employees in advanced technologies had 1,000 team members graduate the program in 2019. Deloitte estimates that this number will increase by an additional 3,000 employees by the end of 2020.5
KPMG recently invested $450 million on a training facility in Orlando, Fla., aimed at helping its employees and clients stay relevant within the ever-changing workforce. With CPAs at the forefront of these upskilling initiatives, clients will be looking to CPAs to help advise their own upskilling initiatives in the near future.
Essential Skills for Upskilling CPAs
It is imperative for emerging CPAs to be agile in the digital work environment. Emerging CPAs must be open to change and adaptable to technological advancements. In particular, CPA upskilling should focus on acquiring and strengthening the following digital skills:
- Advanced Microsoft Excel skills – Emerging CPAs can differentiate themselves from other interns and new hires by strengthening their Excel skills. The daily functions of accountants go beyond elementary functions such as the sum formula. Advanced Excel skills include using filters, VLOOKUPs, IF statements, conditional formatting, and creating pivot tables. CPAs should also invest time in learning keyboard shortcuts in Excel to reduce the amount of time it takes to prepare files.
- Automation – Emerging CPAs should have a basic understanding of how automation is changing the profession through artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA). CPAs can expand their understanding of AI and RPA to know the functionality, the value-added benefits to the firm and its clients, and how to minimize the potential risks associated with these automation processes. With these skills and knowledge base, CPAs will be better equipped to identify which company processes could and should be automated, thus helping the firm become more efficient with less time needed to complete routine tasks.
- Data analysis – The accounting profession has very large data sets that must be reviewed and analyzed. Emerging CPAs must be comfortable working with these data sets and explaining the results. Not only will this reduce the time spent on manipulating the data, but it allows for more focus on analyzing the results. Furthermore, CPAs should be comfortable with summarizing historical data and identifying trends in the form of data visualizations to help others easily understand the analysis.
- Working remotely – As the coronavirus pandemic grinds on, companies are reassessing the need for physical office locations. Many are announcing that they are moving to a fully remote practice. Although this may be more challenging for accounting firms, working offsite may become more customary. Emerging CPAs should be prepared for this transition to working remotely by becoming comfortable with virtual conferencing tools to communicate with coworkers. In addition to knowing the basic functions of virtual conferencing tools, emerging CPAs can expand their skill sets to understanding the functionalities and resources available within each platform.
Guidance for Emerging CPAs
While some emerging CPAs may be enjoying upskilling opportunities through their employers, CPAs at smaller or private organizations might not have this option.
There are many trainings and certificate programs (some free) for those looking to micro-upskill. The following are a few paths to consider:
- The PICPA has excellent certificate programs for emerging CPAs. Some include Data Analysis Fundamentals, Forecasting and Predictive Analytics, and Robotic Process Automation Strategy for Business Leaders.
- The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) Education Center has many resources for members wanting to improve their skills in technology, leadership, and analytics. Programs include the IMA Data Analytics & Visualization Fundamentals Certificate, Blockchain 101, Communicating in the 21st Century, and Emotional Intelligence.
- The Institute of Internal Auditors offers numerous trainings and courses focused on technology, big data, and information technology auditing.
- The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners provides several on-demand and live events to help emerging CPAs interested in a forensic accounting career. Training includes workshops on detecting fraud with data analytics and data analysis techniques for fraud examiners.
- LinkedIn Learning offers many sessions related to working remotely, including Time Management: Working from Home, Productivity Tips: Finding Your Productive Mindset, and Executive Presence on Video Conference Calls. There are also individual trainings for virtual conferencing tools.
- Coursera, in collaboration with more than 200 universities and organizations, provides on-demand lectures, training, and professional certifications on a variety of business and technological topics.
While not a comprehensive list, emerging CPAs looking to upskill can start with any of the above resources. Regardless of an emerging CPA’s career path – whether it is in assurance, tax, advisory, management accounting, internal auditing, or fraud accounting – upskilling must be embraced for continued success within the profession and beyond.
1 PwC, “Talent Trends 2020” (2020).
2 PwC, “Preparing Everyone, Everywhere, for the Digital World” (2019).
3 Mark A. Cohen, “Upskilling: Why It Might Be the Most Important Word in the Legal Lexicon,” Forbes (Sept. 3, 2019).
4 PwC, “Preparing Everyone, Everywhere, for the Digital World” (2019).
5 Joe Williams, “How Deloitte Is Spending $2 Billion to Train 4,000 Workers on the Hottest Tech Jobs of 2020,” Business Insider (Jan. 10, 2020).
Jessica Hildebrand, CPA, is an instructor of accounting at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre and a member of PICPA Council. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.