The new skills dilemma – the 4th revolution Series 1 of 2

Who should be interested in this blog series? Parents of generation-Z kids, millennials, HR leaders, the education industry, and CEOs.

For the last 100 years plus, one needed hard-skills to get into the labour market. Hard skills like: civil-engineering, mechanical engineering, medicine, law, accounting, and finance, etc. University systems were designed to train students in hard-skills. Soft skills like: empathy, context sensing, and creative thinking have till now been considered a secondary matter.

It’s not a hard skills game any longer

Soft skills didn’t matter that much. They were not taught in mainstream college education but at home, the church, mosque, etc. Soft skills have been treated as a by the way. As a matter of fact, for some professions, it was professionally-criminal to appear soft. How can our accountant frenemies be seen as soft? Apparently, if they were soft, they would be considered professionally weak and therefore not good enough.

About three years ago, the Effectiveness lab singled out the accounting profession in a blog series titled ‘gestapo’ accounting. Today – what we wrote about the accounting profession is fast becoming the norm; top accounting firms are hiring non-degree educated boys and girls over the graduate accountant – and imbuing in them, from the corporate training room, the ‘right’ skills – it’s the new ‘homeschooling.’ Corporations can’t trust universities on this one.

Below is what we predicted:

“Blog Series 3 of ‘The end of ‘Gestapo’ accounting’ concluded on an interesting note: welcoming you all to the beginning of the end of traditional accounting. Whimsical stuff, many, mainly traditional accountants, will say. We have shown in the last three series of this blog that something is broken in the accountant’s profession.

The CEO’s are asking for much more than they are currently getting from their CFO’s.  They want their CFO’s to shift to new and higher ground in the organizational eco-system and become agiler when engaging at the strategic level. Even the high-priests of accounting, the BIG4 auditing firms, have noticed the need for new skills amongst their rank and file.

Other members of the global accountants high-priesthood are still searching for answers to the right ‘skills toolbox’ for their rank and file – their future leaders. At least they are aware that something is broken and are exploring means to address the failings.

A glimpse at the would be ‘new’ accountants ’skills-toolbox’ – views from outside:
‘The CFO of the future is finding success by going “soft” – getting out of spreadsheets and spending more time thinking about strategy, people, and culture.” Given these new collaboration and management responsibilities, the CFO’s old education and career track are no longer ideal preparation for the modern version of the job. The hard quantitative skills that a typical CPA or MBA candidate studies are now table stakes; more strategic abilities and soft skills are increasingly critical.

Today’s CFO must be able to develop talent, build a strong team and shape a winning culture, via influencing and collaboration skills vs. via command & control. The CFO must also ensure that the organization culture is aligned with the company’s path to creating value – else all their financial and business plans risk failure. Rather than focus purely on financial outcomes, we are finding that today’s chief financial officers are most valuable when they pay attention to three important areas: understanding the value chain, shaping the culture and developing talent.’’

By the way, it’s not only the accounting profession that is undergoing disruption – it’s all traditional professions

The 4th Revolution:

The 4th Revolution has arrived, and it’s going to change the education and labour markets. Artificial intelligence, Robotics, and Automation are transforming the skills set landscape in the workplace. The so-called hard skills are delivered by automated computer processes. Administrative and accounting roles are getting automated at a breakneck rate. Factory floor jobs, for the so-called technicians and engineers, are being done by robots.

The internet of things is causing its own disruption – you can switch on your security lights at home and heating, for those of you that require heated environments, from the comfort of the iPhone. You can keep an eye on what is happening at home from the iPhone. The security guard, domestic helper jobs will change significantly.

Clearly, both low-level and high-end hard skill jobs are affected.

The fourth revolution and what keeps you relevant in the job market

Your license to the formal office/corporate job, the academic degree, is under attack. It can’t any longer provide what employers are looking for. The degree is too ‘hard’.  It may be time for universities to focus more on soft-skills. Is the time right for an undergraduate degree in empathy? Well, the problem is, you may not have to go to a university to learn empathy.

Has the time come to teach the soft skill sets employers are looking for, on an increment basis, through K-12 education? In effect, kids shall start work at 18 years instead of going to university? They will have acquired the fundamental soft skills required for them to do work. What remains of the hard skills learning journey, can be acquired at work; after all, most of it will be done via automation, and there may be nothing much to learn

This is scary stuff but true. Two of our GAFA frenemies, Apple and Google, aren’t keen anymore on hiring those of you that have university degrees. The academic degree doesn’t do the job they want to be done. They are looking for something other than a degree. Should you the parent, student not get worried about this emerging trend? Why are you spending so much to educate a son or daughter that may never put to good use what they are learning today at college? What is the alternative? Should we hand children over to the churches and mosques? They may do a better job at imbuing the ‘softs’ that the corporate world is looking for

At the effectiveness lab, we have harped on and on on this subject – the impending skills set revolution, the relevance of soft skills, the fact that HR leaders haven’t yet understood what it takes to have a sustainable manpower plan in place. Those of you familiar with the written-press in East Africa, please get a copy of the Nation, New Vision, or Monitor News-paper – the jobs section still fronts hard-skills evidenced by a degree, as the number one requirement to land a corporate job.

The above, even as the orthodox degree and its end-product get challenged and dumped by global industry leaders

So, how do we deal with this 4th revolution thing? See you next week



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