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It is said that digital transformation is a journey rather than a destination. But not everything is smooth and consistent, as the pandemic has proven. It was digital technology that was forced into lifesaving mode as it helped us adapt quickly to rapidly changing circumstances. Today, it has become an even bigger priority for businesses.

As the journey continues, innovations continue to create new opportunities and launch new challenges. Daily life in a CPA firm is no exception. We will always address questions such as:

  • How can technology help us be more productive?
  • What kind of digital services do customers expect?
  • Are there any regulatory changes impacting our IT infrastructure?
  • Do our people have the right skills to get the most out of technology?
  • Do our employees have skills that we don’t use?

Accounting firms and departments will answer these questions in different ways. However, the following three trends are expected to impact the industry as a whole, and you’ll need to consider them if you want to build a future-ready workforce.

1. The talent war

Despite the record number of candidates entering the job market, the fight for people with the skills that CPA firms need most continues. In the corporate world, approximately 93% of CFOs say they struggle to find the right people for accounting and finance roles. This struggle is likely to continue in the years to come as more companies return to growth mode.

One way to improve your recruiting process is to speed up time to hire. If remote hiring has helped you in this regard during the pandemic, think carefully about the cost-benefits before reverting to the status quo of in-person interviews and onboarding experiences. Whatever your research methods, remember that the better the candidate, the more likely they will present multiple offers. Top talent has all the leverage in a skills-strapped market, and your compensation and benefits will need to reflect that.

2. Emerging skills in demand

The line between digital and non-digital skills is increasingly blurred. That’s why accounting employers around the world are looking for a new kind of candidate: someone with accounting and computer skills. This talent, however, is hard to find, which is why hiring is so competitive. When recruiting, you will need to think about the type of digital skills that will be essential in your team over the next three to five years.

Reasons for optimism

Now is a good time to recruit people with up-to-date computer skills. Recent accounting and finance graduates, in particular, grasp the importance of technology and will come out of college with an understanding of data analytics and the cloud.

In a talent war, you will need allies. The good news is that they can be found. A company that specializes in talent management solutions can help you identify permanent or contract professionals with the skills in demand today.

Reasons for caution

Recruiting a new wave of tech-savvy professionals comes with risks as well as rewards. The IT industry has deep-rooted representation gaps, so hiring people with a technology background could inadvertently set back your diversity, equity and inclusion goals.

The typical member of the accounting team will need to learn to work with automated tools and may even find themselves in partnership with AI (a relationship known as symbiotic computing). It’s absolutely essential to complement your hiring strategies with sustained efforts to upskill or re-skill your existing team on the emerging technologies that your business is adopting – and will adopt. Improving skills not only improves employee performance and productivity, but it also makes team members feel valued and boosts loyalty and retention.

3. A more flexible workforce

The world has gone through a surprisingly successful transition to remote working, leaving employees cautious – and many reluctant – about returning to the office full-time. About 49% of workers would opt for a hybrid schedule, ideally with two days in the office and three days at home each week. How should CPA practice managers view these new preferences?

Benefits of a flexible workforce

Flexible working also means greater flexibility for chiefs of staff. You can mix permanent, part-time, and contract professionals to build a more effective and efficient team, and you can broaden your search for recruits by considering remote workers in other regions.

It has become clear that a flexible workforce is a technology dependent workforce. Leaders who were previously cautious of cloud-based technology now have the opportunity to fully integrate it into their operations. Now is also the time to think about emerging technologies like robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) and how these systems can help you improve your resource planning. AI-powered processes like automated data entry and no-code accounting can take on much of the busy work that fills office life.

The challenges of a flexible workforce

As stated earlier, flexible working is entirely dependent on the right technology. That means you’ll need people on your team who can get the most out of new platforms and are comfortable with the latest software.

There is also a very human issue with flexible working: office culture. The culture of your practice emerges naturally from the day-to-day interactions between team members. As a leader, you must know how to maintain the positive aspects of your company culture in the age of hybrid schedules and geographically dispersed teams.

Watching a crystal ball is risky business. But one thing I can say with certainty: the accounting workforce of the future will embrace new skills and be comfortable with digital disruption. Preparing your business for tomorrow’s challenges starts today.

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Paul McDonald is senior executive director at talent solutions and recruitment firm Robert Demi. He writes and speaks frequently on topics related to hiring, the workplace, leadership and career management. Over more than 35 years in the recruitment industry, McDonald’s has advised thousands of business leaders and job seekers on how to hire and get hired.