Building a digitally savvy workforce within the tax function has been saved
Building a digitally savvy workforce within the tax function
Authors: Fateh Amroune (LU) & Maria Stanisor (LU)
The struggle to source the right talent and the considerable changes to the very nature of work has left organizations recognizing the need to upskill their workforce. In response to these rising concerns, tax functions within large companies and fiduciaries are calling for the acquisition and development of internal digital skills. Never before has it been so important to acquire, design, build, and manage digital products that tax professionals will use in their day-to-day activities and in their interactions with their clients.
Like many other business sectors, tax functions face numerous challenges in entering the space of IT/digital skills acquisition. The opportunistic approach to acquire software is no longer sufficient and instead, a holistic HR strategy must be defined. This strategy can be articulated around three pillars:
- How to attract new talent
- How to train the existing workforce
- How to build a coherent dual environment that includes technology and traditional tax profile individuals.
Attract new talent, build digital capabilities
Recruiting new profiles such as software developers, product owners, and data scientists, is the cornerstone of building digital capabilities. These roles are able to create and maintain the necessary processes and tools related to tax, while aiding at establishing a digitally savvy workforce. In this competitive market, recruiters should adapt their strategy by adding new location targets such as engineering schools, software development on collaborative project repositories, and understanding new salary benchmarks for IT people in order to adapt their salary scale.
Secondly, recruiters need to identify and recruit tax professional profiles with digital affinity. Without being a core requirement, the potential new employee needs to demonstrate an ability to thrive in a digital environment. HR recruiters should assess new skills related to the digital platform, from creating the job description to conducting the interviews.
Thirdly, building strong ties with start-ups and tech specialists can boost the digital capabilities in-house in a very efficient way. Even if the competencies are outside the company, having such relations helps the digitalization and the upskilling of a company by bringing fresh and state-of-the-art expertise.
Finally, the skills needed for the on-demand or gig economy represent a trend that tax functions should add to their arsenal in order to create a workforce able to perform specific and well-defined digital and IT activities.
Train your workforce
In a fast-changing digital landscape, adopting digital capabilities is crucial. At the same time, it is equally important to ensure continuous learning to keep the digital workforce savviness up-to-date. The strategy is twofold: on one side, the upskilling of digital natives with tax knowledge and on the other, equipping tax professionals with the necessary skills to navigate a digital world. With this simple common goal, recruitment is able to help both populations find synergies and build the better of the two worlds.
In the context of the automation of an increasingly larger number of manual tasks, employees who, for example, once spent time on data inputting, now have the time to analyze it, and therefore perform higher-value work. Nonetheless, this new task involves inherently a different set of skills which calls for an upskilling program relevant to the needs of the employee to correctly perform these new responsibilities.
A digital upskilling program should not be limited to the traditional training approach (online or physical, with or without assessment). It should be designed as a journey that encompasses several elements including traditional education, exposure, and experience (learning by doing).
- There are a multitude of approaches which can be tackled alone or as a combination including: Dual approach: A digital upskilling program that differentiates between IT specialists who can extend or acquire tax knowledge, and tax professionals who can extend their digital and technical capabilities.
- A digital upskilling program focused on education and formal trainings aimed at improving tax specialists’ digital capabilities.
- A training program designed to immerse the participants in a digital environment. This can be achieved by creating opportunities for tax professionals to perform their work in an environment of creativity where new technologies and digital solutions are tested and developed. In this way, although not actively involved in the development of digital solutions, they are exposed to technologies and may find inspiration applicable to their field of work.
- Exposure to digital tools is another efficient upskilling program where employees perform their regular daily tasks while being located in a Greenhouse environment or with the IT team. Casual conversations or daily IT struggles will provide solutions to repeated low-value tasks that, until then, seemed doomed for manual processing.
- A hands-on, learning by experience approach is considered by some the best way to acquire new skills and consolidate existing ones. Being part of a development team who builds a solution to automate the preparation of standard documents can be a practical way where tax professionals are introduced to new technologies, and are able to understand the mechanics of such solutions and even identify new opportunities of automations relevant for their field of work.
Grow and retain a digital workforce within the tax environment
It all starts with shifting towards a digital-first mind-set where employees are equipped with the right set of skills. Within the tax environment, assembling a digital upskilling program should be seen as a holistic approach that takes into consideration new career paths and setting up a supportive environment where talent can grow and develop new skills, while keeping up with technological changes.
Building an upskilling program should be seen as a journey with clear milestones to create an environment of growth, employment satisfaction, and new job opportunities.
- A new career path to determine
There appears to be a clear need for developing disruptive skills in almost all tax professions such as developing skills in digital tools and technologies, becoming comfortable with analytics and data, understanding the fundamentals of business and management, and thinking like a designer or a creative director. With new skill sets comes new or significantly changed professions that consequently require new career paths. As such, tax technology professionals (a hybrid between tax professionals and technology enthusiasts), seem to require a separate career path, one that provides trainings to support both sets of skills, while enabling them to define and build a career.
- Workplace and work conditions expectations are changing
The tax professions have seen numerous changes over the years thanks to technology upgrades, legislation changes etc., which have changed employees’ habits and the way in which they perform their tasks. For instance, accountants no longer need to make all calculations using a hand calculator, and bookkeeping is now fully computerized as opposed to being kept in paper logs. As such, accountants have shifted their focus from performing highly manual tasks with reduced value, to analyzing facts, identifying inaccuracies, and maximizing opportunities. We can see that although technology has significantly impacted tax professions, these have not become obsolete—on the contrary, professions have evolved to provide advanced quality services and have expanded the service offering. Upskilling tax professionals will, at first, enable them to understand the implications of the tax digital transformation, so that, at a more advanced level, it will raise awareness of critical technologies, data visualization, applied machine learning, and advanced analytics that are going to reshape their field of work.
- Technology challenges—pace of change
Digital technologies are bringing changes to the marketplace at an unprecedented pace, along with new learning opportunities. Accelerated by technology, there is an ever greater need for real-time analytics, access, and visibility. In addition, fiduciaries and tax companies need to determine if they will handle the digital transformation in their organizations internally or if they will outsource it. It is important that organizations understand how to leverage on technology to achieve greater effective tax function and keep up with the market expectations of real-time information. New technologies such as blockchain, robotic process automation, and artificial intelligence can bring greater visibility of transactions and unlock value, improve risk management, and create new business opportunities. The questions that still begs to be asked is whether tax should strive to keep up with these accelerated changes in technologies or whether it should adopt the changes to fit its own needs and requirements at a more convenient pace.
In fast-moving technological environment, the only constant is continuous change. Tax professionals are also faced with the challenge of seizing the opportunities brought by the digital transformation. Consequently, recruitment, learning, and career management have to be reconfigured to adapt to a new population of employees who have different views of their careers, who bring new skills, and are open to embracing new ways of acquiring news skills.
Large companies and fiduciaries who take immediate action to reconfigure their HR practices will reap the fruits of their labor. Better prepared staff for tomorrow’s technologies, services, and clients’ requests, are able to cover a wider variety of skills gaps (e.g. leadership ability and data analysis), thus allowing companies to continuously improve their staff’s soft skills.