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British workers behind in the race to gain skills for automation

By Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA, Chief Executive – Management Accounting

What can we learn from 2019 about the skills needed in the future?

We’re all looking ahead to what the new year and the 2020s will bring. And, as our 2019 capstone research Future of Finance told us, the future of our profession and many others depends on how well we adapt to new technologies and ways of working.  Worryingly, additional research, we carried out in 2019, called Mind the Skills Gap, looked into British workers’ attitudes towards upskilling and in-work learning and showed . 37% of workers feel they don’t need to learn new skills. This is unchanged from 2018, despite nearly 50% of workers saying that a portion of their role could be automated, compared to 38% in 2018.

Why are these skills so important to success?

This is concerning not just for the individuals, but also for the U.K. Our economic success and well-being are based on the efforts and capabilities of our people. This is despite 55% of small business decision-makers saying sections of their operations were less likely to be affected by automation in the next five years (it was 62% in 2018). It is still important that we prepare and arm ourselves with the skill sets to match long-term business needs and fulfil our career goals. Even the U.K. government recognises the importance of en masse preparation and introduced its UK Digital Strategy to help the nation get up to speed with technology and its impact. However, the message doesn’t seem to be reaching everyone.

What are the risks around not updating your skills?

PwC research called,Will Robots really steal our jobs? highlighted: “less well-educated workers could be particularly exposed to automation, emphasising the importance of increased investment in lifelong learning and retraining” showing, while automation and new technologies will affect some groups of people and sectors more than others, having the right skills is the key to employability. Although accountants are highly trained and highly skilled, there is still a need to keep skills relevant and up-to-date. So, at The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants® (CIMA®)—backed by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants®, the unified voice of CIMA and the American Institute of CPAs®— we updated the CIMA Professional Qualification to ensure the next generations of management accountants and finance professionals are well prepared for the demands of the future finance world.

How is CIMA helping to prepare you for the demand in new skills?

We also recognise diversity in the profession is a key to ensuring its future and coping with challenges, so we increased the access routes to becoming a management accountant. We offer a Level 7 apprenticeship, which, just like the CIMA Professional Qualification, is equivalent to a master’s degree and leads to full CIMA membership on completion. As of August 2019, CIMA no longer charges exam exemption fees to new students studying with us. This is a first for a professional body in the U.K. accounting sector, and we hope the changes will encourage more students from all over the world to begin studying the CIMA Professional Qualification..

These sorts of changes are significant, but they will only partially address the key issues around ongoing digitisation. All organisations, businesses and policymakers also need to recognise and, more importantly, promote the value of non-traditional learning routes and in-work learning. This allows us to support the development of the necessary growth mindset and the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn so that we can secure long-term success for ourselves and our organisations.