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The tech skills employers expect from new grads

Learn which abilities and knowledge can give you an edge on the job market.

Think back to a time before smartphones, apps, fitness trackers, and chatbots. The fact is none of those technologies existed just 11 years ago. (Don’t believe us? Ask Alexa.) And, in like fashion, new technology has created high-speed, revolutionary change in accounting — the likes of which the profession has never seen.

That’s also very good news for today’s accounting majors: digital natives who’ve grown up with all things tech. But will specific technology skills, such as the ability to understand and apply data analytics, give you an edge in today’s job market? Here’s what some of the profession’s leaders, including practice area heads at top firms, look for from new grads.

Technological prowess. “As technology and innovation in accounting practices continue to advance, there is a significant need for professionals with a hybrid of accounting and STEM skills,” said Steve Kimble, CPA, chairman and CEO of Deloitte Tax LLP. “This is the future of our profession.”

Accounting hopefuls well-versed in artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, and the global digital ledger technology known as blockchain will stand out in the crowd, as will those who can communicate well with computer and software engineers, said Charles Weinstein, CPA, CGMA, CEO, EisnerAmper LLP.

Another key skill to have is data analytics, according to said Roger O’Donnell, CPA, audit partner and global head of data and analytics, audit at KPMG. He said accounting majors are expected to be able to combine strong traditional accounting and auditing knowledge with the ability to apply advanced technologies in today’s digital marketplace.

Martin Fiore, regional tax leader, Northeast, for EY, also pointed to coding, Excel modeling, and data visualization (the ability to make visual representations of data through graphics) as key tech skills to develop.

“Regardless of whether you are in the accounting department of an organization or an accountant with a professional firm, you’re providing services to your internal [clients] or marketplace clients that are changing with the times,” Fiore said.

Technological agility. Robotic process automation is poised to take away many of the monotonous tasks once shunted to young accountants — meaning more will be expected of them as they move away from these repetitive tasks and into areas that require skills in professional judgment and analysis. Young accountants will also need to be flexible and ready to adapt to new tools.

The way to do this, Weinstein said, is to be curious: “Stay abreast of industry trends, don’t be intimidated by upgrading your technology skills, get out there and network with your peers, and ask questions — a lot of questions.”

Being able to apply technology to the workplace. Graduates today also need critical thinking skills and a perspective that embraces lifelong learning, as well as have an open mindset and be able to apply technology to problems in creative ways, O’Donnell said.

“Technology is constantly changing and advancing, and accounting majors need to be able to look at questions and find new ways to address them using those new tools and technologies,” he observed.

By Lou Carlozo, a freelance writer based in Chicago.

To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien.

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