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Keeping ahead of the robots

Keeping ACAs’ skill set ‘on the mark’ is the job of Alison Stiles. PQ magazine went to ICAEW HQ to talk to her about future-proofing the professional qualification

December 2017

The ICAEW is fully aware that it needs to work hard to ensure its PQs qualify with the skills that tomorrow’s employers need. As it says: “The commercial environment in which ICAEW ACA students train is changing.” That is a bit of an understatement!
ICAEW’s Alison Stiles is one of the key people tasked with future-proofing the ACA qualification and we wanted to find out how her ‘skills project’ was shaping it.
She said that you only have to open a newspaper to see that a lot of accountants’ routine work will be taken on by the robots. At the same time there is going to be a reduction in the need for compliance work.
This means, Stiles said, the ICAEW plans to put greater focus on the development of professional skills, which will equip its young professionals to work with the ‘outputs of automated processes’. Accountants will also become part of specialist teams. She pointed to a recent PwC YouTube posting that looked at the future of work in 2030. “They say it is going to be less about having a career and more about developing a bundle of skills that people need,” she said.
So when ICAEW came to update the professional skills it assesses in the workplace and in its exams it wanted to reflect the research, and to bump up its coverage of some of these key skills themes. It even produced a nice set of definitions, which become effective from 1 January 2018 (see below). Stiles stressed that technical skills still have a massive part to play – but so does curiosity and critical thinking.

Adaptability: The ability to recognise that business is in a constant state of change and evolution, to be curious about this, and to be flexible and adjust thinking, approach or methods as required.
Insight: The ability to analyse and interpret data and think critically to provide commercial insight.
Collaboration: The ability to partner and consider diverse perspectives to create successful outcomes while being accountable for self.
Perspective: The ability to take a holistic view of business issues and decisions, considering external stakeholder interests and enterprise-wide implications.
Learning and reflection: The ability to reflect on experience and learn to be more efficient and effective .
• Since our interview Alison has become Head of Business Development at ICAEW. For more information go to icaew.com/futureprofessional

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