5 Ways to Upskill Your Team and Prepare Them for the Future of Work

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By Robert Half September 17, 2019 at 7:00am

Emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence (AI), are changing the nature of work — and opening the door to greater employee productivity. Accounting and finance functions are feeling this wave of change acutely: According to research for Robert Half’s Jobs and AI Anxiety report, technological advancements are causing finance and accounting positions to evolve rapidly, leading to the demand for new skills.

For finance leaders, the opportunity — and challenge — is to make the best use of talented team members who will have more time to devote to more important, strategic and value-adding work for the business. Advanced technology tools are already helping to free many workers from the burden of routine and time-consuming tasks. That’s why it’s critical for finance leaders to take action now to upskill their staff. The good news: You’ll likely find your employees are ready and willing to grow their skills and knowledge.

Eighty-three percent of accounting and finance managers surveyed for the Jobs and AI Anxiety report say they believe their employees are eager to learn about new technologies. And 81% of those leaders say they expect their employees will be quick to adapt to new technologies that are introduced into the workplace.

Types of tech many finance pros may need to learn

The Jobs and AI Anxiety report makes the point that we’re only at the starting gate with many of the transformative technologies coming into the workplace. So, it’s not yet too late for anyone to build new skill sets and gain an understanding of emerging tech. Some examples of the technologies that finance and accounting professionals will soon be working with, if they aren’t already, include:

  • Robotic process automation (RPA) tools
  • AI software that adds a “human” element to tasks such as risk assessment or fraud detection
  • Machine learning (ML) or self-editing software
  • Natural language processing (NLP) programs that translate documents and speech into data

Also, don’t forget about technologies that many accounting and finance functions already use — which your team may not yet be working with or could learn to use at a more advanced level. Big data and advanced analytics are a prime example. Forty-two percent of accounting and finance managers surveyed for Robert Half’s Jobs and AI Anxiety report said their functions currently use analytical tools, such as predictive analytics, and another 27% expect to use them within the next three years. And for many accounting and finance roles, these skills are becoming must-haves, our research shows.

How to upskill your finance and accounting employees

So, now that you recognize the urgency of preparing your team for the future of work, and the types of technologies they may need to understand (at least, at a high level), where do you start with upskilling them? The following approaches can be effective, as well as budget- and schedule-friendly:

1. Microlearning
Upskilling doesn’t have to mean months-long courses and new certifications. It can be done gradually. Start with a 10-minute video tutorial on a cool new feature of a program that employees already use, for example. Then add more experiences like this throughout the year.

2. Virtual training
Pulling employees from their to-do lists to sit through tedious lectures or workshops can lead to frustration and deflated morale. Instead, offer hands-on training via an online platform that workers can access remotely on their own time.

3. Mentoring
Do some of your employees already use new technologies? Pairing them up with other team members through mentoring arrangements or offering job shadowing opportunities is an easy yet highly effective approach to upskilling. As a bonus, your tech-savvy employees may be able to teach their mentors a thing or two as well.

4. Peer-to-peer (P2P) learning
Building on the last point: You may want to give P2P learning a try at your firm. P2P learning has long been used in the academic world, but in recent years, has been embraced by many leading businesses as a cost-effective tool for upskilling workers. P2P learning is informal, and takes many forms, including employee-led workshops and team projects.

5. Providing financial aid
Despite the value of the methods described above, not all new technologies and skill sets can be mastered in a quick session or through an online tutorial. If you know your finance team will eventually require certification or in-depth study of a new subject, consider offering tuition reimbursement or assistance.

Don’t forget about soft skills

Most employers interviewed for the Jobs and AI Anxiety report said that soft skills will be the most valuable skills in the workplace of the future. After all, machines can’t replicate everything — especially uniquely human qualities like the ability to show empathy.

The report also predicts that future workplaces will be highly collaborative, and that many businesses will expand their use of remote teams. That means excellent communication skills will be even more important than they are today. So, try to connect your team members with professional development options that will help them to build and master abilities such as written and verbal communication, emotional intelligence, and leadership.

Upskilling your team is just as important to your company’s long-term competitiveness as is investing in new technologies. Upskilling can also enhance staff retention, if you do it well. Don’t make your employees come to you first. Approach them and explain the digital journey your organization is embarking on — or plans to pursue soon — and the role they can play in it. Proactively encouraging your team to consider professional development around new technologies shows you are invested in their success — and support their efforts to future-proof their careers.

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