“We’re in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution,” said Jose Castejon, head of Finance Region Controllership at tech giant HP, who led a session titled “Skills of the Future” at the IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) Student Leadership Conference in Houston this past November. “What began as the first age of using water and steam to power machines is now the age of highly personalized, heavily digitalized technology that permeates every aspect of our lives.”

Speaking to a transfixed audience, Jose described the current state of transformation around the world: “Basically, we’re seeing a blurring of the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres,” he said, using the example of the humanoid robot Sophia, the first to ever receive citizenship, to illustrate this convergence. He explained that technological disruptions are happening all over the world, in every industry and every country, and are presenting new challenges – and opportunities – especially for those about to enter the workforce.

For those pursuing the field of accounting, the changes are monumental. “Yes, basic knowledge in accounting will be necessary, but what’s going to be critical is the ability to analyze data and use this data to enable decision making,” said Jose. He described the increasingly popular Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and its use for accounting functions. He noted that because RPA is highly accurate – and can test in an auditing situation, for example, with virtually 100% certainty (instead of samples) – accountants will need to cultivate new skills, beyond the traditional number crunching, to succeed.

One key opportunity for accountants will be designing the architecture of automation processes: “You want to be the one telling the algorithms – whether it’s the software program or, eventually, a machine – what do to.”

Other skills that will be highly useful for students in this new age will include data analytics, which means taking vast amounts of data, analyzing it, and using it to make judgments, as well as RPA and business analytics.

To illustrate how the world of work is changing, Jose shared a staggering statistic: 65% of children entering elementary school today will ultimately end up in jobs that don’t exist today. That means that while tech skills will be highly prized, non-technical skills are also gaining importance: “Attributes like problem-solving, communication, and having an entrepreneurial mindset are what’s going to help you stand out.” Along with reiterating the importance of being flexible and adaptable, Jose reminded students of one thing that, despite all the changes that have occurred, has been true for generations: “Get rid of the fear of change. Fear is the enemy of success.”

You can view a copy of Jose’s presentation at the 2017 IMA Student Leadership Conference here. Also check back on the IMA website (www.imastudents.org) to learn details as they become available about the next Student Leadership Conference, which will be held in St. Louis on November 1-3, 2018.