By MARGARET CRAIG-BOURDIN
COVID-19 has everyone wondering what jobs, skills and businesses will be important for the future. Here are some prime candidates.
Among its many other effects, COVID-19 has everyone thinking about what jobs and services will be in high demand once the crisis is past. What are the businesses and sectors that are currently thriving and may continue to do so? What are the skills that will need to be developed?
Accountants, like all professionals, need to be agile, willing and able to learn new skills that are suitable for the fast-changing times. An integral part of Foresight: Reimagining the Profession, an ambitious initiative about the future of accounting, is the development of new skills and competencies.
But what will a post-COVID economy look like? No one can say exactly. As Francis Fong, CPA Canada’s chief economist, points out, much depends on how long the crisis –and the resulting recession–last.
Still, it’s fair to say that the pandemic may have accelerated certain trends while also creating new ones. And not surprisingly, many of the businesses that look primed to carry us into the future have a technological bent. As one financial adviser puts it, “Health care and tech are going to take us out of this crisis.”
Here are some of sectors to keep on your watch list, along with possible connections to the CPA profession. [For specific skills, see Brush up on digital, social and emotional skills and competencies for a post-COVID-19 world]
Almost overnight, school closures created a need for new delivery methods. And the longer the closures last, the more acute the need is going to be, says Mark Patterson, executive director of Magnet, a social innovation platform based at Ryerson University.
“I was just talking to a large learning management system provider, and they’re getting calls from every province, state, county and school board across North America. So, I think this is going to push a lot more people into ways of doing things differently.
In China, when schools closed, the whole online education sector experienced a boom. One of the big winners has been TAL Education, which partnered with more than 300 public schools to stream free classes. Other companies are also developing data tools to analyze student performance and help teachers track their progress.
CPA connection: Data tools rely on analytics—an area where CPAs are already involved (analytics are used in auditing, for example).
An urgent and abiding need for a huge web of services—from nursing to vaccine development—has drawn attention to health in general, and public health in particular. And the need for front-line solutions is also highlighting the role AI can play in health care. “We’re just beginning to experiment with how we can leverage some of those emerging tools,” says Patterson.
For example, the federal government signed a deal with BlueDot to use the company’s disease analytics platform. BlueDot was one of the first companies in the world to identify the spread of COVID-19.
According to Patterson, the future could bring an increase in roles in public health—everything from epidemiologists to emergency care doctors to specialists in health informatics, data, lab research, monitoring and tracking.
“Career seekers might show greater interest in these fields and we might also see an increase in ongoing government funding in the sector,” he says.
CPA connection: As with online learning, many tools in the biotech sector rely on AI and data analytics—areas in which CPAs can play a role. And contact tracing gives rise to privacy concerns and data governance challenges—both of which have been identified through Foresight as issues where CPAs can deploy their skills.
For example, CPAs can help determine when data is “fit for purpose.” As Michael Lionais, a senior executive with the federal public service currently working on the Foresight Initiative with CPA Canada, explains, “Perfect data is rare and usually too late to be relevant. Those developing models need to understand that uncertainty and how to reflect it in the models being used to support decision-making.”
It’s not often that you see “public sector” on a list of areas with high growth potential. But for many, the pandemic has brought the sector to light like never before. As Pedro Barata, executive director of the Future Skills Centre, puts it, “The job of public servants over the past few months has been jaw-dropping and magnificent—from the people who deliver our mail to those who collect our garbage to those who put together the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and made it work for millions of Canadians.”
According to Jim Stanford, director of the Centre for Future Work, the “unprecedented shock” caused by the crisis is going to create a need for some very powerful leadership. “To support the economy’s escape from this shutdown, we will require a concerted government-led effort to undertake major investments, as well as an expansion of public services, and direct hiring into the public sector. So I would say one lasting change, assuming that governments see the need for this, is a permanent change in the size of the public sector.”
CPA connection: Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and industry, is a CPA and has been a proponent of digital and data transformation across the industry. CPA Canada hosted a roundtable in partnership with the government that included CPAs in this area and began setting the stage for further involvement with the government in the data space.
All eyes turned to Amazon recently when it announced it had hired 175,000 new associates during the pandemic. This is just one sign of the surging demand unfurling though the e-commerce space.
One company that is riding the wave is Shopify. A Bloomberg report notes that five years ago, the e-commerce provider went public on the TSX with a billion-dollar valuation. “Now it’s worth 100 times that amount,” it said.
Although it’s hard to say what a post-crisis shopping world will look like, Barata says “it’s almost as if you were flipping a switch. Once they get comfortable in the online space, people might not want to go back to the way they used to shop. We could end up having a lot more couriers and a lot fewer front-line retail workers.”
With e-commerce taking off, digital payments are rising along with it. As Michael Wong, principal, research, guidance and support, at CPA Canada, points out, the new consumer-directed finance (previously referred to as open banking) and ISO 20022 payments standard initiatives will be transformational for financial services in Canada as well as organizations that rely on financial information.
Also, COVID-19 has stepped up the need for contactless payment systems. As Davinder Valeri, CPA, director, strategy risk and performance management, at CPA Canada, points out, the financial institutions, along with the government of Canada, are modernizing the payment program.
CPA connection: As Wong points out, many CPAs will leverage the new digital payment data feeds to prepare their client’s financial reporting and auditors will play a larger role in providing assurance over these feeds.
As part of the services that have become vital throughout the crisis, delivery and transportation have vaulted to a prime spot on the public radar. “It’s been incredible to see the supply chain for our basic needs continue to flow,” says Barata. “And there is a whole workforce operating behind the scenes to make sure that happens—from logistics managers to sorters to dispatchers to couriers to professional truck drivers. There’s an entire cluster of jobs and industries that are going to continue to be important through the recovery. It’s a workforce that’s going to literally keep the economy moving.”
According to Jim Carroll, FCPA, a futurist and founder of J.A. Carroll Consulting, the crisis could cause an uptick in the development of automated solutions such as driverless trucks and drones for last-mile delivery—the final step on a product’s journey.
However, Barata doesn’t see that move happening anytime soon. “We’re not going to see driverless trucks in the next five years,” he says.
CPA connection: Again, automated solutions such as driverless trucks use AI—an area of obvious interest for CPAs. As Lionais explains, “CPAs are well positioned to ensure balance between the public good and an organization’s objectives. Is the AI ethical and as it learns, is it still aligned to organizational objectives and society’s perception of public good?”
Long before the pandemic hit, this was already a huge industry. Still, the crisis is bringing even greater visibility to the area. As Barata puts it, “More and more of us are turning to tools such as Zoom to communicate with each other. But as we do this, how do we stay up to date with some of the doors that need to be locked around security?”
In 2018, already aware of the need to fight cyber crime, the federal government unveiled a National Cyber Security Strategy. And Ryerson created a not-for profit called Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst that offers a 20-week intensive cybersecurity training and certification program.
CPA connection: CPAs would be a natural fit for roles in cyber security, according to Malik Datardina, CPA, a governance, risk and compliance strategist at Auvenir and a member of CPA Canada’s Audit Data Analytics Committee. “We understand controls and risk. There’s a kind of overlap between what CPAs and cybersecurity experts do.”
One key position in this field is the data controller, who controls access to data. As Lionais points out, this person ensures that segregation and controls are maintained and also provides assurance to data users of the source and traceability of the data being used.
Now that so many people are working from home, it’s not surprising that digital platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype have been seeing an increase in their numbers of users.
Similarly, in the world of accounting software, more accountants and small businesses are adopting cloud-based applications, which allow them to access financial records and maintain business continuity from various locations. “Remote access has turned into an explicit need, so we expect the move to cloud platforms to accelerate,” says Will Buckley, country manager, Canada, for Xero. “As a company, we’ve continued to add new customers and signed three out of our four largest deals in North America in the last few days of our financial year, which ended on March 31.”
CPA connection: Naturally, for anyone wanting to offer remote accounting services, having cloud-based systems is a prerequisite. But there are many other considerations as well, says Chad Davis, co-founder of online accounting firm LiveCA.“The real operational benefits come from having an aligned team, a great culture and a company structure that lends itself well to a remote environment.”
LiveCA itself has seen a surge in demand since the pandemic began: “At a time when some firms are laying off staff and deferring client payments, we’ve signed on over $400,000 annually in new business,” he says.
The drone industry is seeing an increase in business, and analysts expect the trend to continue.
Among other uses, drones have been used in China to spray disinfectants and to deliver medical supplies. As Carroll notes, “There were drive-through parking lots where you would submit your test and a drone would take the sample to a lab.”
In some countries such as Spain and China, drones have also been used to keep an eye on people during lockdown campaigns—a practice that for many raises the spectre of dystopian surveillance. Still, as one article notes, the perception of drones may be changing: “ ‘Remote’ in many aspects of life has become now economically synonymous with lifesaving,” it says.CPA connection: Drones have been paired with AI to bring efficiency to inventory counts on audits—a use that is likely destined to expand.
Want to stay on top of learnings emerging from CPA Canada’s strategic initiative to reshape the accounting profession? Check out Foresight: Reimagining the Profession.
Plus, learn about robotic process automation by viewing CPA Canada’s new spotlight on the subject, as well as its two-part video series that interviews two CPAs on their RPA implementations. CPA Canada has also partnered with AICPA to offer a robotic process automation certificate.
And find out how to cope with COVID-19, including survival tips and how to pivot your business.
This story first appeared on CPA Canada’s online news site.