A massive shift is underway in the way people work, and the skills that are prized.

Dr Jed Kolko is chief economist for Indeed, the world’s largest online job market which attracts 200 million visits per month, holds 100 million resumes and posts more than 30,000 new jobs a week. That data bank provides rich troves of insights about the changing world of work.

During a visit to Australia when Dr Kolko spoke at the University of Sydney he said; “Our ability to see the statistics provides leading indicators into the job market about the impact of automation and globalisation, and what the (jobs) distribution will look like.

“It’s not simply how many jobs are displaced, but the regions and sectors most affected.”

He also said that in the future as even recruitment is impacted by technology; “The privileged will get evaluated by people, the masses will be evaluated by machines.”

At the same time there is a structural shift underway in the types of work available.

In the US already around a third of all jobs are now “gig economy” or contract roles – and 30 per cent of people in such roles are doing them because they can’t find alternative work arrangements. Indeed’s data reveals that most of these contract workers are not young millennials delivering takeaway food or constructing flat pack furniture for a fee – but are instead professionals aged 50 and over who are sought for their deep knowledge and experience in particular areas.

Whether the gig economy percolates the finance function to any great degree in Australia remains to be seen – but the sorts of knowledge and experience that are most prized are shifting rapidly.

According to Forrester Research only 30 per cent of successful accounting teams’ work will in the future be focused on bookkeeping related tasks, while 70 per cent will be data related, using financial information to support strategic decision making. Facility with numbers is now just the ticket to the game.

EY says that already 57 per cent of CFOs want more data analytics capability in their teams – but 74 per cent acknowledge that they are facing a talent crisis.

According to a February report in Accounting Today the five key skills that CFOs seek from their teams are, in order:

  1. Adaptiveness to new technologies
  2. Compliance in KPIs
  3. Collaboration and communication skills
  4. Competence in modelling; and
  5. Excel skills

While Excel skills are still on the list, the march of technology means that 80 per cent of companies will use software to automate their close by 2020 according to Gartner, and already the Hackett Group says almost a third of companies are using software to automate their intercompany transactions or reconciliations.

Some reports suggest that by 2030 invoicing itself may be on the way out, as central payments hubs and blockchain start to percolate industry. For the naysayers on blockchain, the ASX has released its latest report into its plan to replace the post trade settlement system with a blockchain solution, as early as 2020/21.

As more finance tasks are automated there will need to be a rethink on skilling and workplace strategy. Shared service centres and outsourcing for example are likely to be threatened by more automated processing. Accenture has forecast that up to half of all shared service roles will disappear in five years.

In its Finance 2020 report recruitment business Robert Half noted that more than a third of Australian CFOs felt keeping pace with technology was the number one issue that they needed to address, followed by meeting regulatory requirements and making use of big data.

Two years on from that survey and the pace at which technology is transforming the function is, if anything, accelerating as artificial intelligence and machine learning enter the fray.

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