Critical thinking. Creativity. Complex problem solving. Advancements in technology require today’s workforce to hone these uniquely human skills for the future. So how are professional services companies preparing their workforces for the jobs of tomorrow?
In this episode of the Workday Podcast, I discuss the importance of upskilling talent for a future-proof workforce with Betty Ann Jarrett and Amy Richmond from PwC.
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If you’re more of a reader, below you’ll find the transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity. You can also find our other Workday Podcasts here.
Julie Jares: Before we start, can you tell me a little bit about your backgrounds and your current roles at PwC?
Betty Ann Jarrett: I was a tax partner for most of my 30-year career at PwC and I've recently taken over as the global human capital leader for our company’s network.
Amy Richmond: I've been with PwC for over 25 years and most recently led our global deployment of Workday. I’m currently leading our human capital operations team at the network level so that we can maintain all the great work we've done so far and continue to innovate.
Jares: What trends are you seeing in the professional services industry that are disrupting how jobs are done today?
Jarrett: Our clients are demanding more value, higher quality, and a more technology-enabled experience at a lower cost. Technology is changing both the way we do our work, as well as the types of services we deliver to our clients. It's all about doing things faster, smarter, and more efficiently. And our clients want to benefit from that as well. So we need to combine that with human difference—those uniquely human skills that we bring to help our clients understand data, gain new insights, and create greater value.
At the same time, we’re facing a common challenge in the market around attracting and retaining qualified talent. Investing in technology doesn't mean we aren't investing in people. In fact, we need to be investing in our people even more.
Jares: This is going to require some changes at PwC. What is the organization doing to respond to these trends?
Richmond: We're listening to what our clients tell us and we're taking action to meet those demands. We're on a huge digital transformation journey right now, and that includes some key investments in technology and a focus on upskilling our workforce, which is 276,000 people. We want to really prepare them and the rest of the world for what the digital world means tomorrow. We also have to think more creatively about our workforce. We've traditionally hired people with finance, accounting, and consulting backgrounds, but now we have to add in STEM grads, offshore delivery centers, contingent workers, and the gig economy. We have a whole different group of people with different skills—a group that needs to respond to the demands in the marketplace.
Jares: It sounds like skills are also constantly changing, with new ones appearing and others becoming obsolete. How is PwC developing its employees’ skill sets to support and deliver the future of the business? And what areas of skills and talent are you focused on building out over the next few years?
Jarrett: Our transformation journey is all about upskilling our people in the skills they're going to need to be successful and meet the demands of our clients in the future. It will no longer be sufficient for our people to have only strong technical skills in our traditional competencies like tax and legal, accounting, assurance, and consulting. They'll need much broader skill sets. We're offering a range of different programs and tools to really try to unlock the power that all of our people have if we just let them use it, and give them new tools to help them improve their efficiency and the impact that our services have.
For example, we're running digital academies, which are two-day courses on bots, automation, and dynamic visualization capabilities. Employees who go to this training come back so excited and keen to use these newly developed skills and tools. They've developed all sorts of bots that take thousands of hours out of the work that they do. So, it's very exciting to see the power that our people can demonstrate once they've been given some tools and skills, and they’re empowered to go do it.
Richmond: We have a couple of other tools as well, particularly in our learning space. We have a sophisticated learning platform that gives people direct, easy access to a wealth of learning content. We're also rolling out a number of other training modules across the world, including learning bursts. These are dynamic alerts that are pushed to our people to make sure that digital remains top of mind. It comes through to your laptop and you can just click on it in real time if you've got a minute to explore. We also use personal trainers to align specialists who are seeking training in particular areas.
We also have the ability to track those who have the skills to do the work accurately and make sure that those skills reflect the level of competency they have. This is a really key part because what we've been using is a group of digital badges to make sure that we can track and award people with those badges.
Jarrett: As you can imagine, with all this upskilling and change happening, some of our people feel a little scared about this journey. It's important to note that we're not leaving anyone behind. As long as our people lean in and want to engage and upskill themselves, we are here to support them in the journey. It's proven to be really successful and that's why we're seeing a lot of great buy-in.
Jares: We've been talking about skills quite a bit, but resources are also important in professional services. Having a view of true resource availability continues to be a big challenge for professional services firms. How is PwC tackling that challenge with its current workforce?
Jarrett: It’s a huge challenge. If we could have a perfectly accurate view of all our people's skills and their availability, we could deliver the best to our clients wherever and whenever they need it. We have our own internal application that we use to track our people's skills, and it's linked to our staffing and deployment applications. We can search for a person with certain skills in a particular territory and then see if they're available for a client project. For example, if I need someone who can do a tax provision in IFRS accounting standards who lives in Spain to work with a Spanish client, but also speaks English, I can find that type of person.
Jares: How are you able to reallocate talent and resources quickly when you need to?
Jarrett: In the past, it relied a lot on a variety of resources, including personal connections. I think we can probably automate a lot here, but we also have some other options that we use to help reallocate talent and resources quickly because it is a common problem. We often get big proposals or projects from multinational clients where we need to source a team together from around the network. Other resources that we use are things like our International Mobility Program. Our staff can go on a tour to another country to help with a client problem or assignment, or for developmental purposes.
We've had a huge increase over the last year in our mobility assignments. Over 3,000 people started new assignments last year taking place across 118 different countries. It's a win-win because not only does it help our clients get the right people in the right place, but it also helps our people develop their own skills, such as global acumen, leadership, and learning about the world.
Jares: How has process standardization improved PwC's ability to rapidly adapt in this changing market that Betty Ann was describing?
Richmond: Standardizing processes and technology has been key for us and helps us focus on quality and efficiency. Whether it's in assurance, tax and legal group, or consulting, our ability to fully leverage cloud technology is dependent on having those standardized processes and controls in place to guide our work. For our support processes in the background, it's also equally important to be able to drive a consistent user experience for our staff. When we think about areas like human resources, sales, marketing, and finance, we can reduce administrative time and create an easier and more enjoyable experience for our people in the course of their normal work. When we have those more consistent processes for our staff, we're able to push forward with a more efficient high-quality experience for our clients as well.
When we moved to Workday, it pushed us to come together as a network of firms and standardize over 70 different global business processes. That has enabled us to utilize the technology in a much more efficient way than we ever had before.
Jares: A professional services study from an analyst firm revealed that a lack of executive leadership can contribute to attrition for professional services. What is PwC doing to grow the next generation of leaders to try to combat that?
Jarrett: It's something that we are focused on every day. What we start with is our PwC professional framework, which is our development framework for all our people. That framework sets clear expectations across all of our different business units and provides transparency on the skills each of our individuals need to be successful and progress in their careers with PwC now and into the future.
Their whole development, whether it be on the job or classroom learning, is underpinned by this framework that covers areas like technical and digital skills. At PwC, we view everyone as a leader, not just the top leaders, because we're all leading ourselves and our teams. Business acumen is one of the other things that we measure in our framework, along with relationships.
We foster a culture of perpetual learning. With the pace of change being what it is and certainly not subsiding, the most important skill for the future is our people's ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn new things. Learning how to learn and applying that skill throughout one's career is critical. That's why we have a focus on perpetual learning. It's not “attend a course and you're done.” We put an entire ecosystem in place to support all of our people from day one when they join. It includes formal training programs that are designed to provide just-in-time learning, for whatever skill they need.
It also covers some of those human skills that we need, such as leading through change, mentoring, and reverse mentoring. A lot of the digital training we're doing is reverse mentoring, where some of our senior partners are mentored and coached by the younger staff, and it's working amazingly well. We also have network-wide leadership programs that help us develop our key talent. These are focused on helping us develop leaders for network roles in the future.
Jares: Speaking of the future, what are some things professional services firms should consider when they're revamping their employee experience?
Richmond: The first one is skills. That's the new currency of our people. As we discussed, we're investing in developing those new skills, as well as developing our people, at a more rapid rate. We also promote clear, consistent expectations. The PwC professional framework allows us to give everybody an opportunity to progress at their own pace and really sets us up for success as a firm.
We think professional services firms have to build a culture and deliver an employee experience that resonates with the workforce of the future. We're investing in programs that help our people work flexibly and manage their energy and their personal well-being, so that they can really be their best selves at home and at work. When we think about attracting and retaining a diverse workforce, we have to provide learning assets that can be consumed in a variety of ways. Whether that's in person, through podcasts that they can listen to on the go, or online learning, those are all important elements.
The other part of that is career paths. Not everybody has or wants that same traditional trajectory anymore. We've been thoughtful about personal aspirations, the skills people want to acquire, and which benefits actually appeal to a wider group of society. Whether we're thinking about part-time folks, single parents, or people who are taking care of elderly parents, we have a whole new world that we have to think about across generations. It's quite complex, which is why you have to have a plethora of options out there that help your people live that experience.
Jares: It's been so interesting to talk to both of you today. I want to thank my guests, Betty Ann and Amy, for joining me on the Workday Podcast.