The role of Education in Professional Services Firms (PSFs) and the accounting profession

With the visible shortage of dedicated qualified talent in Malta’s labour supply, the importance of ensuring an appropriate education journey for the workforce of tomorrow is critical. In order to succeed, a change in the skillset and competencies required today is evident. It is necessary to shift from purely theoretical frameworks and curriculum, to equipping tomorrow’s workforce with the ability to be analytical, think critically, and question and assess objectively, rather than accepting the status quo. It is our duty to help the people who join the profession to understand what their ultimate career goals are and provide them with the right means, knowledge and competencies to achieve them. It is only after providing the required experience to develop these mandatory skills, that we can effectively focus on building a resource pool required to lead professional services firms into the future.

When graduates make the transition from the classroom to the work place, they bring with them all they have absorbed in their schooling and the readiness to apply this knowledge to the real world. Yet, the reality that they find is often far removed from what they have been taught. The first years are actually the hardest for them to be able to understand the dynamics of working in a professional services firm, realise what they contribute and comprehend how they can effectively grow.

Recent discussions and findings by the MIA Education Committee, recognise that the current syllabus requires adjusting to keep up with the realities of the profession today. While it would be naïve to think that learning stops the day somebody graduates from University or completes their studies, it is clear that the present curriculum merits a closer look. At a policy level it is necessary to ask whether the curriculum is equipping our future workforce well enough to be ready for the realities that we see emerging in Malta.

Today we refer to lifelong learning and continuous learning to encourage the workforce to remain agile and adapt to the changing circumstances. I feel this begs the question: at which point does education in the classroom stop and what experience and skills must the profession provide to allow this learning to continue? Essentially how do the two work together to give the required all-round experience needed to guarantee a successful outcome? How do we equip our people to remain in charge of their career and provide them with the right model for growth in order to retain their skills and continue to build on them?

A career model that will retain the workforce of the future must be one where continuous learning is ever present. Those organisations that do not offer the ability to be mentored or provide training programmes that allow for personal development and growth are missing a key component to help employees feel that they are growing as individuals. It is imperative that in addition to learning on the job, employees are able to develop personally through rigorous training programmes and a clear journey designed specifically for them.

In an age of innovation and automation, we see a shift in the skillset required –methodical, repetitive tasks are making way for the need for softer skills and a more analytical mind-set. This is not something easily taught in a classroom – nor is it something often inherent. Many times, unless nurtured from an early age, such skills remain undeveloped. How can the current education system provide this skillset and how can professional services firms compensate for this shortfall? How do we prepare our people to deliver those difficult and challenging presentations in a boardroom, to manage those demanding clients, to challenge those ethical queries, to cope with the ever-complex regulatory requirements and remain true to the core values of the brand we represent?
There is no simple answer to these questions, but this article is an opportunity to think about the future of work and the role education plays. Organisations that are able to provide this journey will ultimately succeed in engaging and retaining their workforce within the realities of today’s working world.

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