The proliferation of technology has given way for businesses to automate a lot of the tasks that would typically be carried out by someone in an entry-level role; reporting, completion of manual spreadsheets, and data collection. This is particularly pertinent in the accounting and finance professions, where according to McKinsey Global Institute’s automation research existing technologies could fully automate 42 percent of finance activities.
As technology becomes more sophisticated, accounting and finance professions can expect more than just data-entry intense tasks to be replaced by technology. The modern-day accountant will take on a more consultative and analytical role, allowing them to be more strategic and become true partners to the business. While for experienced professionals this carries great benefits, for aspiring young professionals it poses a question – what does the entry point look like and how can they ensure they have the skills to get on the professional ladder?
Are entry-level positions a thing of the past?
Academic knowledge from a university degree provides a general foundation for graduates to learn and adapt. It does not offer the training or understanding of specific products, services or a company’s business model to allow employees to be immediately strategic. As a result, organisations have long invested in new hires at entry-level, training them to eventually become valuable assets to their corporations.
Historically, such an investment has never been given a second thought, as mid-to-large sized companies have had manual processes in great quantity, that require rote, clerical skills which can be quickly trained and passed on to new employees. Consequently, mid-to-large companies have been the bastion of hiring university graduates. Yet, these same companies are those promptly investing in automation technology to remove inefficiencies, reduce cost, remove human-error and speed up the pace of business.
How should new graduates prepare?
While automation is still nascent, we can expect entry-level jobs to become less abundant and more competitive, as they will be the first to be automated due to their labor-intensive, routine nature. Aspiring young professionals will have no choice but to enter the labor force in higher-level roles.
In order to be ‘work-ready’ for these higher positions, graduates must find ways of acquiring quality skills, such as digital skills, people skills, creativity, communication, and critical thinking. Large companies will demand higher quality graduates who possess the ability to understand, and potentially manage the implemented automation technology, and who are able to provide sound business judgement – rather than just number crunchers.
Today’s modern graduate will, therefore, have to become more innovative in crossing this widening chasm, showing their value through internships, building special connections, and other means. Of course, this could mean obtaining a university degree or college certification just to work part-time in a less desirable role, while continuing to work on getting the necessary skills for that first job at a company that is willing to invest in the graduate’s future.
How can companies adapt?
Whilst companies are investing more in research, development, and technology, it’s important to remember that without training new graduates, there will be little supply of experienced professionals further down the line. Solving this problem will require universities and businesses to redefine their relationship to provide the future workforce with a smoother transition from learning to operating in a professional environment.
Companies can help to address this issue by offering university students more paid and unpaid internships and apprenticeships to prepare students to hit the ground running after graduation. There is also an opportunity for universities to partner with charities and not-for-profit organisations that may lack resources; this would enable students to support departments and gain hands-on experience with higher-level work.
Looking ahead to the future
While the potential for improving business performance through automation is a sign of great development, it will inevitably lead to changes in organisational structures and redefined roles. New graduates will face increasing pressure to showcase high-quality skills, and more importantly how they can add value to organisations beyond entry-level tasks. It is up to the education system, alongside companies to scale up support of our future workforce as the impact of automation becomes unavoidable.
By Pete Hirsch, CTO, BlackLine