Developing upskilling and reskilling in mid-market firms
Running Your Firm

Developing upskilling and reskilling in mid-market firms

In a strategic partnership role at Intuit, my job is to help the top 300 accounting firms leverage our QuickBooks Online ecosystem to provide more valuable human capital and cash flow advisory services to their small- and mid-sized business clients.

It is common knowledge that there are two key themes that have emerged and taken center stage since the pandemic. At first glance, they appear to be interconnected:

  1. The ongoing staffing shortage and need for top talent.
  2. The emergence of AI and technology platforms for automation to increase capacity.

When exploring this from a wide angle by looking at the problem/solution for accounting firms and businesses, automation in the workplace makes sense! It’s the primary thing I address when consulting with our firms. However, when I step out of my role and read articles on AI and the job market, I get a pit in my stomach.

At a high level, the solution of automation is logical and obvious, but there is something at play, deeper down, that is at odds and may explain why it might be hard to implement. The purpose of this article is to take the focus from a wide overarching view of digital transformation for businesses—and narrow in on the employee. That one employee, reading the same articles as me, is worried they may lose their job to a robot.

Digital transformation is not just inevitable—it’s happening now, and now is the time to start identifying skills and implementing training to enable and empower your staff to meet new demands. 

Upskilling and reskilling is nothing new, as the world had to make an immediate pivot in 2020, a time where leaders and workers got a crash course. 

Adjusting your mindset

In today’s workplace, the average skill has a shelf life of less than five years, with the more technical skills at just 2 1/2 years. This could explain the phenomenon of career nomads, who job hop every few years seeking new challenges and more diversified experiences. Often, when weighing the high cost of turnover, these nomad employees come to mind. It’s estimated that losing a salaried employee will cost your firm more than half their annual wage. However, it is exactly those types of employees—agile thinkers and ones with high levels of intellectual curiosity—that firms should seek to hire and retain in order to embrace change and lead the digital transformation of the next five years.

According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report, we are lagging behind the 2020 prediction of 47% automation in the workplace by a third! Presently, it is estimated that only 34% of business-related tasks are automated. In a 2015 article by McKinsey and Company, 70% of change programs fail, in large part due to employee resistance. One of the primary underlying causes of resistance is fear of change. Change opens the door to the unknown, which on one hand can be exciting and embraced by adventure seekers, while also incapacitating for others. Neuroscience research has found that uncertainty registers on the brain as an error and creates tension that must be corrected in order to feel comfortable again.

I have always been an advocate of reframing: Moving thoughts in a more positive direction in order to adjust your mindset. So, if we flip the fear coin over, what we might land on, instead, are the benefits of overcoming challenges—and there are many!

You might be asking, “What the heck does this have to do with upskilling?” In full transparency, this was not my original plan for this article. As I dug into the research, it occurred to me that the daunting task of evolving our workforce to advance and keep pace with the evolution of machine learning is overwhelming to employees and industry leaders. I read articles on mid-market business challenges and how KPMG plans to implement AI and cloud services, and learned that there will be 133 million new roles created by AI evolution in the next five years! 

However, when I dug into new philosophies and approaches to upskilling and reskilling by HR experts, I found, by comparison, a far lighter task, much to my delight—one that is as advantageous to attracting top talent as any other benefit, and creates a culture that keeps employees engaged and makes them want to stay.

All about the skills

My goal now is to not only reframe upskilling and reskilling in a way that is much more manageable and fun, but also ensure that it’s very much in line with what your firm will need in the future. The skills they are referring to here, and echoed throughout all my research, are not ones that come with advanced degrees, years of experience, or an innate knack for technology and computing. Rather, they are referring to neuroplasticity—the brain's ability to change and adapt due to experience. This is something accessible to anyone.

Here are some ideas to increase neuroplasticity, and as a result, arm your workers with skills that will give them confidence, agility, and the creative thinking they will need to adapt to changes moving forward:

  1. Strive to be a company that instills life-long learning. The best companies are places where employees can learn, and learning is the most future proof skill.
  2. Hire for a learning mindset.
  3. Measure and teach competencies rather than skills. Competencies build character and evolve.
  4. Rather than tracking specific skill sets such as proficiency in Excel, track transferable skills, such as a great attention to detail. 
  5. Take time to get to know your staff. For example, the man who runs payroll during the day may also be an exceptional football coach for his kids. Perhaps career coaching might be a more rewarding fit for him and the firm.
  6. Be sure new hires know the opportunities available to them within the firm and  promote job shadowing.
  7. Experiment with role reversal.
  8. Challenge your team!  

For 22 years, Intuit has made the list of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” and recently we ranked #14. I truly believe that one of the many reasons this holds true year after year is that Intuit, among many other values, embraces a culture that promotes and enables upskilling and reskilling.

Here’s a perfect example. I am on the National Accounting Firm team, and writing articles for the Firm of the Future blog is not in my job description—that falls under a whole different department. However, when our team was asked if any of us would like to contribute, several of us raised our hands. Writing has been a hidden passion of mine that, until recently, I expected to be fully confined to my journal.

“Our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant, and to face the challenge of change.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

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