Upskilling accountants in data should be preferred option for firms, experts say

Upskilling accountants in data should be preferred option for firms, experts say

A data scientist tends to stay in their position for approximately 1.7 years on average

Upskilling accountants in data should be preferred option for firms, experts say

Accountancy firms should aim to upskill workforces in the face of data skills shortages, according to Clare Walsh, director of education at the Institute of Analytics (IOA).   

Data consultancy group Dufrain released its 2023 state of data analytics report, revealing that 60% of corporate leaders said the biggest challenge to their business was recruiting individuals with the necessary data skills and talent.   

“You don’t need to train accountants as much compared with if you hire a data analyst. You’ve got to train data analysts on how accountancy works and how your business works, you do have to train accountants but on different things,” says Walsh. 

“It’s way easier for an accountant to upskill in data than for a data analyst to learn accountancy.”   

David Whitson-Black, global head of talent and performance at Azets says they have been looking at external training providers to help with its upskilling regime.  

“We’re looking at where we have gaps and where we could have gaps and we have to fill those by looking at how we upscale our people internally.”   

Additionally, Azets’ accountancy students are currently receiving education in data analytics and data science as part of their ongoing qualifications.  

“We have people at the earliest stages of their career going through that. We have people who are perhaps a bit more advanced doing some data specific roles or working with technology more prominently, and we’re upscaling them.” 

Currently, Azets are acting on a case-by-case basis regarding its recruitment of data specialists, but this could change going forward, states Whitson-Black.  

Demand for data skills still growing   

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) released a survey in March 2023 on how accountants could increase their readiness for the profession. According to the poll, 99% of accounting firms cited data analysis, tools, and techniques as a valuable (either very valuable or somewhat valuable) skill for new hires.  

Whitson-Black says that, for Azets, while there is more of a focus in hiring data specialists, firms find it difficult to anticipate the extent to which data specialists will play a significant role in the future. 

 “On one hand, you’ve got jobs already that require you to have those data skills and we will actively look for those skills.  

The other side is where we know that those skills will be beneficial to you, and we know that it will help us in our endeavours, but we’re not quite at that stage yet where it’s already a prominent part of your role.” 

Considering the substantial experience that accountants already possess in handling large data sets, the IOA’s Walsh believes it would not take too much training for them to start looking at predictive analytics.  

“We can get them doing some more exciting things with different types of data analytics, and graph data is not a big step on for accountants which can show them some amazing things.  

“Accountants are also phenomenal at understanding the businesses that they work for and its regulatory environments. All these areas are where our data analysts are quite poor in.”  

Walsh argues that an accountant who comprehends both the financial landscape and regulatory requirements, while also excelling in data management and analysis, possesses formidable capabilities. 

Making accountancy attractive to data specialists  

According to a study conducted by 365 Data Science Ltd, the typical data scientist tends to stay in their position for approximately 1.7 years on average. This is one of the biggest “risks” of hiring a pure data scientist, stated Walsh.  

This type of data proves data specialists are needed, but it is now up to the profession to provide “fulfilling roles” for them, Whitson-Black argues.    

“If someone who has really beneficial skills is coming into a business that isn’t ready for them then they’re not going to be able to give their full experience and their full self to that role. So how fulfilling is that going to be for someone who has all of these skills but can’t use them. 

“I would say attrition high in that area because they want to go somewhere else to get fulfilment.”  

To access a free webinar provided by the Institute of Analytics on upskilling for accountants, please click here

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