Development to secure our future

Picture of a team developing strategies
By Alex Burden, Professional Development Editor

13 July 2016

In our CA Today feature on ‘The end of the accounting profession as we know it’, author and Oxford lecturer, Daniel Susskind, describes the future of professional roles and how technology will play a part. But where does this leave our development strategies? 

In his co-written book, ‘The Future of the Professions: How Technology will Transform the Work of Human Experts’, Daniel and his co-author father, Richard Susskind, describe the advancement of online learning and deploying software instead of human resources to perform complex calculations of all types.

They predict a transformation for all professions, with some roles becoming automated by computers and others redeveloping to work along aside and harness the power of these ‘robot’ employees. We asked Daniel what professional development for accountants will look like in the future, in terms of the skills they may need.

“In the book we try and answer this question head-on, and argue there are 12 roles; 12 new activities that all different types of professionals will have to have a grip on,” explains Daniel. “What’s interesting about these roles, firstly, is that many of the titles are unfamiliar to traditional professionals; things like being a process analyst, knowledge engineer, or a systems designer.

“These are job titles that most professionals simply don’t recognise. Many of these roles require skills and capabilities that traditional professionals currently don’t possess. Unless they learn them they won’t be able to perform in the future, so I think reviewing those 12 roles and exploring the capabilities that are required would be a useful task for any professional.”

Roles for professional bodies

Assuming that the profession will continue to develop future business leaders who work ‘beyond’ the professional boundary of being an accountant, we asked Daniel what he thinks will be the role of bodies like ICAS, in providing professional development for our members.

Is it the case that we ought to teach professionals in the traditional way in the future... or do we use all these various technologies to change the way that we teach? Daniel Susskind

“I think there’s two important things that can be done,” he notes. “One is to help professionals understand what the possible futures are, and to prepare professionals for that. It’s quite an important educational role. The second is to help professionals develop strategies to deal with those different futures; a more practical role.

“It’s exactly what my father has done with the Canadian Bar Association; an exercise both in helping Canadian lawyers understand what the future will possibly look like and also providing various tools or materials to help them develop strategies to deal with that.

“I think both roles are important for professional bodies and associations, and I think the most ambitious and open-minded are doing that: moving away from the idea that their role is to protect the ‘traditional’ ways of doing things, towards educating their members about the future and helping professionals prepare for it.”

How should we teach?

The book discusses the development of ‘increasingly capable systems’ in professions, but how might the form of professional learning look in the future? 

Daniel believes that technology will have a very important role in how we deliver these skills to professionals: “Is it the case that we ought to teach professionals in the traditional way in the future, meaning a group of 20 to 30 people sitting in a room, with an expert at the front broadcasting to them, or do we use all these various technologies to change the way that we teach?” he questions.

“More people signed up for Harvard’s online courses in a single year, than ever attended the university in its entire existence, up until that point. There are really quite powerful systems out there already that ought to change how we teach.

“And what are we teaching professionals? I think we need to make judgements about what sorts of roles will be important in the future for each of our professions, and then try and understand the capabilities to perform them.”

Daniel will be presenting a session entitled “Will Robots Replace Accountants?” at The ICAS Conference 2016.

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