2020 Predictions: New skills needed for industry survival

2020 Predictions: New skills needed for industry survival

In 2020, several skills will become critically important for accountants looking to move up in their careers, ranging from soft skills to professional qualifications. 

2020 Predictions: New skills needed for industry survival

As the accounting industry evolves and becomes multi-faceted, accountants of all sectors and status need to stay on their toes and continue upskilling throughout 2020. 

As the industry changes, so does the picture of a ‘typical accountant’. 2019 saw a notable surge in apprenticeship offerings across both mid-tier and Big Four firmsand the industry has begun to change its hiring practices to accommodate a diverse range of candidates. 

From school leavers to mums returning from maternity leave, there are a range of backgrounds and experiences entering the workforce, and currently-employed accountants across the board need to take note. 

The types of skills that hiring managers are looking for have changed with the times, with many starting to favour technological savviness, soft skills, and leadership abilities over degree levels and grade point averages. 

“Being good at maths will no longer make you a good accountant, so next year should be about preparing for the change technologies like AI will bring to our sector,” said James Poyser, CEO of Provestor and inniAccounts. 

Economy-led change 

Increasingly, technology and digital-led skills are becoming essential to the industry, particularly as advancements in automation are out-pacing lessflexible employees. 

To counter this, firms will continue to seek out digital natives who have a grasp of RPA and basic IT skills, who are able to grow with the firm as technology evolves. 

Notably, digital prowess will continue to be necessary, rather than a ‘bonus’, in 2020, so accountants who are lacking in that department need to enhance their skills. As Accountancy Age has previously explored, RPA and AI are set to take off in 2020, and this will affect the roles that accountants need to play in the industry. 

Along with this, employers are becoming less focused on degrees and university grades, choosing instead to promote qualification-driven programmes for school leavers and career changers. With 82% of accountancy firms open to hiring a candidate from a non-traditional background, the industry is diversifying both its background and skillset. 

Similarly, with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and rising university costs, accountancy firms of all sizes and multiple professional bodies are promoting apprenticeship programmes to school leavers, allowing them to upskill on-the-job.  

Of course, not having a professional qualification will not bar trainee accountants from joining the industry, similar to how many programmes operate in 2019. However, for accountants who are looking to move into higher-paid roles, those qualifications will be necessary. 

The type of qualification is not set to matter as much in 2020 as it may later on in the decade, particularly as the industry handles Brexit’s initial impact. However, accountants should begin to see what qualifications they can add to their portfolio as another way to diversify and showcase their skills base. 

Should you be a jack-of-all-trades? 

Additionally, soft skills like creativity, communication, negotiation and leadership will become a job seeker’s best friend in 2020. With the rise of automation, employers are looking for employees who can do what their robots cannot. 

Consider that in a 2019 Sage survey, accountants reported that technological literacy (57%), relationship building (46%), and business advisory (44%) were the top three skills necessary in the coming years. All of these areas are human-led – and while automation can assist, it cannot replace.  

Moreover, skills like problem-solving and critical thinking will become even more essential with the rise of automation, because technology is never perfect. The ability to think quickly and adjust to a situation in real-time is essential to any business and will become a focus of employers in the new year. 

This is partly to do with the fact that the role of the accountant has changed over the years, particularly as the lines have blurred between departments and disciplines. Now, more than ever, accountants need to be a master of several trades and understand other departments, even if they do not work directly in that field. 

Poyser explained that going forward: “An aptitude to be empathetic, helpful, an ability to look beyond the numbers to provide the strategic advisory services people will expect, and a growth mindset – in this case, one which means people understand automation and how you harness it – will be vital.” 

He advised that accountants who are looking to diversify their skill set should seek out growth opportunities, both inside and outside of the workplace. Finding a new workplace that actively invests in its employees’ upskilling is one opportunity, as is committing to studying new technology outside of work. 

However, even volunteer opportunities can be a worthwhile time investment, particularly as they allow accountants to develop their skills in a lower-stress environment. 

“It’s also a really good way to improve your listening skills in an alien environment – a skill that will be fundamental to advisory practice,” Poyser added. 


Ready to shake up your career in the new year? These are the top three things you should do to future-proof your job. 

AUTOMATE: An understanding of automation is becoming increasingly essential, so seek out both online and local courses to develop your RPA software skills in your downtime.

DEVELOP: Working on cross-sector skills is a great way to further develop your knowledge of different disciplines, allowing you to take on new clients and contribute more to your firm. 

CHANGE: If you’re not moving up in your career, why not find a fresh start with some of the leads on our job board? From graduate roles to senior positions, there’s something for everyone

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