Get digital skills early to support your career

Much has been written about the impact of automation and the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution and accountants with digital skills will be in greater demand than ever before, according to a recent report.

Eight in ten small firms are actively recruiting more staff with cloud-based accountancy skills, according to Xero’s Accounting and Bookkeeping Industry Performance Report. The study of 940 practices, published earlier this year, found that the trend continues for mid-sized firms – with nine in ten companies with more than 300 online accounting clients looking to recruit new staff compared with 59% for firms with fewer than five.

Having the right skillset

Laura Holden, communications executive for Reed recruitment firm, says that, in a competitive job market, it’s more important than ever for accountants to show they have the right skillset. “Having the right training behind you shows prospective employers that you’re an expert in the field – meaning you’ll stand out from other applicants,” she comments. “And with companies willing to pay higher salaries for employees with the right digital knowledge, you’ll ensure your skills are always in demand.”

Zoe Whitman, founder of But The Books accountancy and bookkeeping practice, says taking an online course helped her understand the basics of how accountancy software works. “When I set up my practice, it felt important to become affiliated with one or two software providers, and to achieve adviser status,” she says. “I found it a valuable process to go through as I think it’s important to understand how the software you’re going to use actually works.”

Getting an edge over the competition

Ben Rendle, financial controller at Plymouth Argyle Football Club, says that taking an online skills course helped give him the edge over the competition. “The course I did has really helped in terms of my career prospects,” he says. “I am also about to launch my own practice alongside employment so the efficiencies of the cloud will allow me to do this when I may have struggled previously.”

Rendle says it may, however, be easier for ‘digital natives’ (people born after 1981) than ‘digital immigrants’ to adapt to such programmes. “Whilst digital natives will likely adapt to this technology quicker than digital immigrants (like me) they are likely to have a different set of challenges,” he notes. “Increased automation will mean that there are fewer of the traditional entry level accounting jobs which have historically relied on data-entry, meaning that the new generation of accountants will need to develop their non-technical advisory skills at a faster rate.”

Show the benefits

Whitman says even people who aren’t necessarily that tech-savvy can probably benefit. “Cloud-based accounting is designed in a way which aims to make bookkeeping accessible, even to people who say they’re not digitally minded,” she notes. “I took my accountancy exams back in the early 2000’s when everything was paper and text book based. Things have changed a lot even in the 12 years since I qualified as an accountant and I’ve had to adapt a lot too.”

So how can employees encourage their employer to help them invest in digital skills training? Show them how much value it could add to the team and the firm, says Holden. “Whether it’s how the new skills could improve your day-to-day tasks or the amount of money your company could save by having these skills ‘in-house’, showing how the training will benefit the business as a whole is a key part of ensuring you get internal buy-in.”

Future proofing your career

Online training provider AVADO have noticed the increasing need for digital skills among accountants. They recently entered into a partnership with Xero to provide a free Xero Advisor Certification included with all their finance courses, including AAT.

Amy Crawford, managing director at AVADO, says when you invest in a training programme, you are essentially future-proofing your career. “The accounting sector is being impacted just as much as any other by digital transformation, so it’s more important than ever for today’s accountants to stay ahead of the curve,” she notes. “Which is why we’ve partnered with Xero: to ensure that graduates from our accounting courses are confident in using cloud-based accounting technology and are kept up-to-date with the latest advances in their industry, significantly boosting their employability.”

Mike Day, director of UK education at Xero, says that “upskilling” is no longer a “nice to have” but an essential part of developing your career, especially if you run your own business. “Our bookkeeping and accounting practices tell us that recruitment, followed by up-skilling is their biggest barrier to success. And with the government’s initiative Making Tax Digital on the horizon, the demand for these skills is only going to increase. So it’s not a question of whether to start – it’s when.”

Click here if you’re interested in developing your finance skills online and claiming your free Xero course

AVADO believes in creating inspiring learning that has a lasting impact - whether that’s helping you progress your career or transform your business.

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