How EY upskills in the age of AI and sustainability

How EY upskills in the age of AI and sustainability

Partners Paul Goodhew and Dilek Çilingir Kostem explain how EY is harnessing the power of AI and sustainability to redefine the future of professional services and ensure their strategic evolution in a rapidly changing global economy.

How EY upskills in the age of AI and sustainability

The relentless march of technology shows no signs of abating, leaving organisations scrambling to keep pace or risk obsolescence. EY is determined not to be left behind. The venerable professional services firm is aggressively future-proofing its business by embedding artificial intelligence and sustainability into its very operations.

For EY’s leadership, adapting isn’t an option – it’s imperative. The firm recognises it operates in a world of constant disruption, where complacency poses an existential threat. Clients now demand more than just best-in-class services. They expect solutions that create long-term value while minimising environmental impact. As such, EY is overhauling its business model to embed sustainable practices across all facets of the organization.

Accountancy Age recently sat down with Paul Goodhew, EY’s Global Assurance Innovation & Emerging Technology Leader, and Dilek Çilingir Kostem, EY’s Global Assurance Talent Leader, to understand why the firm is betting big that mastering the two tectonic shifts reshaping the global economy – the digital revolution and the drive towards a greener planet – holds the key to future growth.

The road to upskilling

This understanding drives EY’s strategic emphasis on developing key competencies within their workforce, particularly in areas such as technology, artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, and sustainability. This dedication ensures that EY professionals stay ahead of industry trends and meet the increasingly sophisticated demands of their clients.

Çilingir emphasises the importance of upskilling in technical areas that are becoming indispensable. “Technology skills are one of the most important ones,” she notes, highlighting the necessity for AI and data analytics capabilities. This focus is not just about keeping pace but leading the charge in a world where data is king.

Moreover, sustainability skills have become a core part of EY’s training initiatives, reflecting the firm’s commitment to environmental stewardship—a demand that is becoming ever more prominent among clients. “It’s a very important subject, and we’re upskilling all our people on sustainability skills,” Çilingir adds, underlining the need for professionals who can navigate and lead in the greening global economy.

One of the most innovative aspects of EY’s approach to professional development is the EY Badges program. This initiative allows employees to earn badges for skills development in specific areas. Goodhew elaborates on the significance of the program: “We have issued over 37,000 innovation-related badges, including in domains such as artificial intelligence and intelligent automation, to help equip our people with the right skills.” The badges not only signify competency but also encourage a culture of continuous learning and achievement.

The incentive to earn these badges goes beyond personal accomplishment. “Once you do the learning, it’s not enough for a badge,” Çilingir explains. “You also need to have experience about that topic. So you need to go on an engagement or work on a specific project which would need that skill to be put to use.” This requirement ensures that the skills are practical and immediately applicable, enhancing the firm’s service capabilities in real-world scenarios.

In a sense, the EY Badges program serves a dual purpose: it is a tool for personal advancement and a strategic asset in the firm’s broader push towards future-proofing its business against technological shifts and the demands for sustainable practices. It illustrates a profound understanding that in the face of rapid technological advancements and shifting regulatory landscapes, continuous learning is not just beneficial—it is imperative for survival and success in the competitive field of professional services.

Integrating sustainable practices

EY’s commitment to sustainability is not just a nod to trending global concerns but a deeply integrated approach to reshaping how the firm operates and advises its clients. This commitment extends beyond superficial measures, aiming to fundamentally align EY’s business practices with the growing demand for environmental responsibility and sustainable development.

Çilingir, speaking to the dual aspects of sustainability skills within EY, highlights the comprehensive approach the firm takes: “First of all, staying on top of sustainability topics at an overall level is quite important to work next to our clients and direct them in the right direction, in the right path. But in addition to that, there are some specific sustainability projects needing to get more in-depth.” This statement underlines the firm’s strategy to not only keep abreast of general sustainability trends but also develop deep, actionable expertise in specific areas.

The efforts to deepen sustainability skills are particularly tailored under the assurance services, where there is a significant push to upskill staff technically. “We have different types of learning for different types of populations actually,” Çilingir explains. This tailored learning approach ensures that all levels of personnel, from new recruits to seasoned auditors, are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to advise clients effectively and responsibly.

Moreover, the integration of sustainability into EY’s service offerings is not just about enhancing their market competitiveness but also about leading by example. The firm’s proactive stance on sustainability demonstrates a recognition of its potential impact on global business practices and the environment, making it a key player in pushing the corporate world towards greener solutions.

Technology as a backbone of service delivery

The Big Four firm has strategically positioned technology at the core of its service delivery, transforming the way the firm engages with its clients and manages internal processes. This technology-centric approach not only enhances efficiency but also ensures that EY remains at the cutting edge of the professional services industry.

Goodhew details the firm’s substantial investments in technology, particularly emphasising the role of generative AI in revolutionising service delivery. “We’ve made investments now over the last 10 years in technology, and we’re currently going through a $1 billion investment program around our assurance delivery technology,” he states. This massive investment underlines EY’s commitment to integrating advanced digital tools into all aspects of its operations.

A specific example of this integration is the use of generative AI to provide EY professionals with immediate access to the most current technical accounting and auditing standards. “We are now piloting and testing the capabilities where they have that information summarised at their fingertips through the power of generative AI,” Goodhew explains. This initiative is designed to save time and improve accuracy, allowing staff to focus more on client-specific needs and less on searching for information.

The impact of these technological advancements extends beyond internal efficiencies. By equipping its workforce with state-of-the-art tools, EY enhances its ability to deliver high-quality, innovative solutions to clients, thereby reinforcing its market position and setting new standards within the industry.

Moreover, the adoption of technology in EY’s strategic framework not only supports current operations but also prepares the firm for future challenges. As digital transformation accelerates across industries, EY’s proactive approach ensures it can adapt swiftly and effectively, maintaining its reputation as a leader in professional services.

A culture of continuous learning and innovation

At EY fostering a culture of continuous learning and innovation is not just a strategic goal but a foundational element of the firm’s identity. This culture is essential in ensuring that EY’s workforce remains agile and can navigate the complexities of a rapidly changing business landscape.Çilingir

Çilingir speaks to the importance of ongoing education within the firm, emphasising how EY prioritises investment in learning: “Learning is one of the largest investments in our firm and creating our learning as well.” She notes that the firm has initiated various types of learning, from boot camps to specialised courses for all levels of the organisation, including partners. This structured yet flexible approach to education allows EY to keep its personnel up-to-date with the latest developments and techniques, particularly in burgeoning fields like AI.

Goodhew further highlights the transformation in EY’s learning and development (L&D) strategies, particularly around the adoption of modern techniques. “We’re looking at modern techniques that can be introduced, which includes on-demand learning accessible at your fingertips within the workflow that our people complete in our technology,” he explains. This approach leverages adaptive learning and increased personalisation, where AI supports tailoring content to individual needs, ensuring that learning is both effective and relevant.

The continuous learning ethos at EY is not confined to formal training but is integrated into the daily workflows, enabling professionals to learn and apply new skills in real time. This integration helps foster a dynamic learning environment that not only supports professional growth but also enhances the firm’s ability to serve its clients effectively.

Furthermore, the feedback mechanisms in place at EY are vital for the continuous improvement of its L&D efforts. Çilingir elaborates on this, stating, “Directly after [learning modules], we get feedback, and then there are other ways of technical measurement.” This ongoing evaluation ensures that the learning content remains relevant and impactful, addressing the specific needs and challenges faced by EY professionals.

Feedback and assessment mechanisms

The firm has established robust feedback and assessment mechanisms to gauge the effectiveness of its learning and development programs and technological innovations. These systems are critical in ensuring that the initiatives meet the firm’s high standards and effectively contribute to its strategic goals.

Çilingir explains the process of gathering feedback at EY, emphasising the immediacy with which it is sought: “Yes, directly after we get feedback and then there’s other ways of technical measurement.” This immediate feedback allows for real-time adjustments and enhancements, ensuring that learning experiences are continuously refined and optimised based on direct user input.

Furthermore, EY employs technical measurements to assess the learning outcomes. These measurements are designed to evaluate the depth of understanding and the practical application of the skills taught. This dual approach to feedback—qualitative immediate responses and quantitative performance metrics—enables EY to maintain a high quality of training and development across the organisation.

Goodhew adds to the discussion by outlining how the firm assesses new technology deployments, such as their advanced AI tools. “We run an independent testing program for all of our technology releases across the assurance practice which allows us to independently validate the technology product with the users across our business,” he states.

This process involves not only user feedback but also a comparison of the outputs of the new technology against traditional methods, ensuring that any new tools provide clear advantages and maintain EY’s rigorous standards of accuracy and reliability.

Challenges and adaptations in talent development

As EY navigates the complexities of a rapidly evolving business and technological landscape, the firm faces several challenges in talent development, particularly in maintaining a pipeline of skilled professionals

Çilingir acknowledges these challenges, particularly in building a sustainable talent pipeline: “It hasn’t been easy to be candid.” She notes that the firm has had to adapt its career paths to make them more attractive and relevant to today’s professionals, especially those skilled in technology. “For all those people we started to have some attractive career paths,” she mentions, emphasising how the firm has transformed traditional roles to better align with modern expectations and technological advancements.

Goodhew elaborates on the measures EY has taken to integrate technology specialists within their client service practices, ensuring that these professionals not only contribute their technical expertise but also understand and enhance the firm’s broader service capabilities. “What we’ve done recently in the last few years is set up and establish a dedicated career pathway for assurance professionals who might have been historically citizen developers,” he explains.

This pathway provides a structured development route, blending technological expertise with business acumen. These adaptations highlight EY’s proactive approach to talent development, recognising the need to continuously evolve its practices to attract, retain, and develop professionals who can thrive in a technology-driven environment. By addressing these challenges head-on, EY ensures it remains competitive in attracting top talent while fostering an environment that encourages innovation and growth.

Client and partner engagement with an AI lens

EY places a strong emphasis on deepening engagements not only with clients but also with strategic technology partners. This collaborative approach is essential to navigating the complexities of artificial intelligence (AI) and other digital transformations in professional services.

Goodhew discusses the importance of partnerships in enhancing EY’s technological capabilities: “We have well established alliance partners, including with Microsoft, who we work with on a day-to-day basis and are vital to understanding more about the technology our clients are using and how we think about that technology roadmap.”

These partnerships allow EY to stay at the forefront of technological developments, ensuring that both the firm and its clients benefit from the latest insights and capabilities.

Additionally, the collaboration extends to clients, particularly in how projects are approached. Goodhew explains, “From an audit perspective, where we are the independent auditors, increasingly our teams work alongside our clients to establish multi-year technology roadmaps based on how a client is transforming their business with technology which helps us align our own technology to access their data and leverage how they’re implementing new technology and use this to deliver a high-quality audit.”

This approach not only helps in tailoring services to client needs but also in building long-term relationships that contribute to sustainable business practices.

Putting the best foot forward

EY’s proactive approach to embracing technological and sustainable transformations showcases a firm that is not only prepared for the future but is actively shaping it. Through strategic investments in talent and technology, EY is positioning itself to meet the evolving demands of the global market and maintain its leadership in the professional services industry.

The firm’s commitment to continuous learning, client and partner engagement, and integration of cutting-edge technologies into its service offerings exemplifies how traditional businesses can transform into dynamic, future-oriented entities. By doing so, EY not only enhances its service delivery but also sets new industry standards, proving that an established firm can remain at the forefront of innovation and market leadership.


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