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On Tuesday morning, at Wolters Kluwer's CCH Connections User Conference in Washington, D.C., Bill Sheridan, chief communications officer at the Maryland Association of CPAs (MACPA), gave his presentation titled, "A Crisis of Competency: The 'Skills Gap' and What It Means for Business." Sheridan's session focused on the skills young professionals need to succeed in a "changing and complex world."

Amongst an audience comprised mostly of millennials and Gen X'ers, Sheridan looked to address the problem that many young professionals today can be unprepared for a rapidly-changing world. The problem, he says, is the "skills gap:" the space between the skills young professionals need to succeed against those they actually possess.

Sheridan cited an August 2016 MACPA strategy session, in which 14 CPA firms ranked what they consider to be the most important skills for entry-level staff members. Communication, writing skills, and critical thinking skills all ranked at the top, which can go against what's traditionally expected of professionals.

"We're trained to do one thing, yet we need skills to do something entirely different," Sheridan said. "How do we address that? That's the issue."

Sheridan went on to explain that the current exponential pace of change in technology is automating lower-level skills, meaning soft skills are becoming more crucial to learn at earlier ages. This, in turn, means the whole notion of education in accounting needs to change in order to get soft skills integrated with professionals sooner.

This all leads to what Sheridan cites in Warren Berger's A More Beautiful Question as the age of adaptation. "The need to constantly adapt is the new reality for many workers," the book states. Workers are "often left to figure out for themselves what new skills will make them more valuable, or just keep them from obsolescence."

"I think the secret lies in doing the things that the machines can't do," added Sheridan, "[because] it's going to get crazier before it gets better."

In addition to personal traits, Sheridan also asked to examine physical workspaces to make sure they're collaborative, or utilizing new technology such as the cloud and mobile. "Ask yourself, 'What does my office say about who we are?'"

Sheridan closed the session by urging young professionals that they must take it upon themselves to learn the skills that will make them future-ready.

"Get out there and learn some new stuff," he said. "What got us here, ain't going to get us there. We're going to need new skills fairly rapidly. It's a whole question of relevance going forward." 

For more on Sheridan, head to his Twitter page here.