6 tips for upskilling the tax workforce

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As tax and HR professionals, we aren’t the only ones watching our industries transform. Social, economic, cultural and technological change is disrupting almost every industry and occupation.

It’s generating a lot of talk. The question now is how do we turn this conversation into action?

Here are six things to keep in mind as tax professionals work to adapt to this new and demanding digital environment.

1. Recognize the environment we are in

There is disruption today in everything we do. That’s driven in great part by technology and the self-service tools that are emerging every day. It’s also driven by a general evolution in the workforce that prioritizes flexibility, autonomy and variety.

While this level of change can feel daunting, we encourage clients to embrace this as an opportunity for growth, increased productivity and efficiency.

2. Assess your approach

Workforce upskilling is too complex of an ecosystem to unfold organically, and there is no one-size-fits-all fix. Key components to drive change must be tailored to each organization.

Always remember the why. Be customer-obsessed. Make sure you understand what employees want from you because that is the primary reason you are going through this evolution in the first place.

Analyze your situation. How many employees do you have now and what are their skills? How do you anticipate that changing over the next three to five years? Do you need to teach more than technical skills? Does all of your workforce need the same level of digital upskilling? What portion of your workforce will need more coaxing and encouragement and incentive to upskilling versus the portion of your workforce that is already self-motivated toward self-development?

Factor in timing. If you have a large, complex, global system as many of our clients do, recognize that upskilling may take time. Some of our clients are looking at 10-year journeys and realizing that some manual processes are still going to be needed during that time. That’s OK. Transitions don’t have to be immediate.

3. Craft a plan

Agility is important when laying out your digital upskilling plan, so don’t be surprised if your decisions need to be altered as you learn along the way.

To figure out what best fits your company, lean in and engage in discussions not only with your tax team but also with human capital and consider the following factors:

● The activities and services you provide to your business: What are they now, where do you want them to be, how will you increase productivity and value in the business, and how will you get there?

● Jobs, people and tasks: What needs to be prioritized in your digital journey?

● Quick wins versus long-term gains: How do you define them?

● Progress: How will you chart progress and measure success?

Make sure to create time and give permission to carry out the plan as well. It’s not fair to ask your people to improve automation skills without setting aside the time for them to learn these new and necessary skills.

4. Develop and deploy your talent strategy

Upskilling your workforce is ultimately about people, not jobs. Technology is only as successful as the people operating it. It’s not just about their digital talents but also their mindset.

Retention matters because losing talent comes at a big cost. So share your vision with your people to get them on board, explain the “why” behind your decisions and make sure people see the benefits for them. It helps to build in a system to reward, incentivize and inspire your team to remind them that innovation doesn’t have to come from the top.

One of our clients recently saw a boost in morale, increased investment in their digital evolution and a flurry of good ideas when they issued a challenge to their people to find ways to make their organization more digitally efficient. The winner got to present their idea to the C-suite, but everyone found value in having a voice in the process. Opportunities also exist to take advantage of the gig economy, a growing source of temporary top-tier, tech-savvy talent.

5. Get practical and tactical

When you aren’t sure where to start with your digital journey, look at practical approaches that are working for others.

At PwC, we’ve found great success with a Digital Fitness app that uses gamification to make the upskilling process fun. Many of our clients now use it to build enthusiasm about the transition and measure their team’s digital aptitude in four key areas — skills, mindset, behavior and relationships. Meanwhile, the app’s dashboard reporting provides the employer with an aggregate view of the portion of the workforce with the higher DigitalIQ, versus the aggregate view of the portion that may need additional coaxing and support to develop their DigitalIQ. This helps the employer assess the level of effort, and portions of the workforce to focus on, to start driving the digital workforce journey.

For many users, it creates an aha moment when they recognize that upskilling is about more than digital savvy. It’s also a useful tool from a diversity and inclusion standpoint because it helps leaders determine who has key and necessary skills — even when they aren’t the loudest voice at the table.

PwC’s Tax Analytics Academies are another way many are broadening their skills and expanding their knowledge base. These two-day courses at PwC offices or onsite at client locations offer hands-on exercises to teach key tech skills like tax automation and robotics to tax professionals. This approach not only boosts digital know-how, but also shows your people you value them enough to take two full days to invest in them and their future. We’re seeing this across industries. Employees at all levels are willing to spend up to two days per month to upgrade their digital skills, a median response of 15 hours each month, according to our Consumer Intelligence Series - Tech at Work survey.

6. Embrace a culture of continuous learning

Technology is constantly changing and that means continuous learning needs to be part of your tax workforce strategy.

One client we are working with has done this by encouraging a “Just Click It” philosophy as it tests out a bot to automate a tax function. The system isn’t working perfectly yet, but people are encouraged to test it and give feedback. That is creating enthusiasm about being part of the process and seeing the evolution. The leader says it’s been infectious and encouraging.

That is the kind of digital journey you want to be on.

So go on the offense, take the first step, reach out for experienced help when you need it, and don’t fear the process. You will be amazed how far and fast you can go when you digitally empower your people.

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