Research suggests thousands of jobs could be lost to automation in the not too distant future. But EY Global Assurance is preparing its workforce for a collaboration between human teams and machines. Karen Hochrein explains how.
What do technology developments such as robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics and blockchain mean for people at work?
HR and automation
For some, they represent a fundamental transformation in the ways we go about our working lives, promising greater efficiency, productivity and new business opportunities.
For others, some processes that once took weeks can now be completed in a fraction of the time, leaving them worried about having the right skills for a digital world. So how do you go about meeting these two worlds when you need to prepare your entire current workforce for future opportunities and attract the professional of the future?
Rethinking skill sets
A workplace collaboration between human and machine is today’s reality. Yet, transforming your current workforce to make the most of the technological advancements is no easy feat.
It takes time to reskill and upskill, and that is after you have understood what those skills look like. That is why there has to be a major rethink today of what skills your business will likely need in the next five years.
While we don’t yet have all the answers at EY, we have been building an understanding of what the assurance professional of the future will look like and the skills they will need, and changing the way we recruit and onboard new employees to match these new requirements.
Already, we have deployed RPA in our audits so that routine tasks become increasingly automated. This does mean that, at the junior end of the spectrum, these roles will undergo significant changes.
Audit professionals will no longer need to execute repetitive administrative tasks such as populating spreadsheets with data or sending audit confirmations and taking stock counts.
RPA will give employees the opportunity to focus on higher value tasks, such as the subjective areas of the audit that require the auditor to use their judgment and professional scepticism on the data to uncover insights and unusual patterns. And we are committed to preparing them for that change.
Changing how people learn
The way our people learn is becoming more engaged and flexible. We’re moving from classroom-based training to things like audit simulation and e-learning.
We’re enhancing our award-winning EY Audit Academy, which combines interactive, classroom-based simulations with on-demand learning modules. This allows auditors to assess their own decision-making and improve their professional scepticism, and also to see the impact of their decisions on true-to-life scenarios.
Audit professionals will also need to be equipped with more digitally focused skills. They’ll need the ability to analyse large data sets, be comfortable using new technologies and be naturally innovative and curious to deliver real value and quality for clients.
With more information at their fingertips, we need individuals who can ask better questions to explore business risks and provide deeper insights.
Another way we are developing our people is through a new program called EY Badges, launching later this year, that will allow our people to invest in their own careers by earning digital credentials in skills that differentiate them in the market, such as data visualization, AI, data transformation and information strategy.
This will enable our people to focus on value-added insights and develop their skills as true digital business advisors.
Recruiting from a diverse pool
Developing a recruitment strategy that enables businesses to attract and recruit the appropriate balance of skills has to be a key focus right now.
Technological advances are progressing at tremendous speeds and employers have to think far ahead as to the types of skills their future workforce demands.
We are more and more focused on hiring people with diverse backgrounds. By opening the doors to introduce more talent from areas including STEM subjects, we continue to bring new and fresh perspectives to the accounting profession.
Teams that previously consisted entirely of audit and assurance professionals are becoming more mixed, which means employees will have to adapt to changing team dynamics.
So we are seeing greater diversity of skills, with professionals from a range of industry backgrounds forming our teams.
Achieving the right talent mix will not be easy. All industries are facing a similar evolution compounded by intensifying talent shortages. With technology and skills needs evolving so quickly across all forms of business, talent shortages will only intensify.
EngineeringUK predicts that an additional 1.8 million engineers and technically qualified people will be needed by 2025.
For businesses like ours that aren’t traditional STEM employers, it means articulating to prospects what the career experience will look like, especially as they may have different expectations and ambitions to the traditional intake for accountancy professionals. Our organisation now includes 18,000 data and analytics professionals with 2,100 data scientists.
Social media engagement
We appreciate that employers need to leverage new recruiting tactics to target younger, more tech-savvy workers. An example of this is our Instagram campaign, #StayCurious, designed to tap into this broad network of users – which has doubled over the last two years.
Ninety-percent are under the age of 35 and are more likely to engage with and follow brands than those on other social media platforms. EY Careers sees double the engagement on Instagram compared to other platforms and the campaign has so far reached 10 million STEM students and graduates in 83 countries.
Working directly with your future talent pipeline is also critical. Across the globe, we are working proactively with schools and universities to address future talent shortages, providing guidance on course content and support with student engagement.
Our Ernst & Young Academic Resource Center (EYARC) in the US provides materials that fit the course curriculum on topics such as developing an analytics mindset.
In the UK, we have developed a new digital degree to train STEM students focused on a mix of accounting, business and data skills.
There is no doubt that the employment landscape is undergoing a dramatic and rapid transformation as new technologies change the face of work as we know it.
For many, these are seismic changes like they’ve never seen before. HR and talent leaders have an opportunity to play an active role in the digital revolution that is taking place across a whole range of industries, by helping to drive the people agenda for the benefit of employees and the business.
It will require a shift in thinking and constant innovation, but laying the foundations now will help ensure we stay one step ahead.