Globalization, digitization and automation are accelerating workforce transformations in every industry. Traditional professions, such as those in accounting and finance, are facing complex challenges that require professionals to adapt and upskill to succeed.
“In as little as two years after graduation, alumni who are looking for new jobs have discovered they need additional skills, such as experience with specific analytics tools, to even apply for new roles,” said Nancy Vanden Bosch, associate director of education for the CPA Ontario Centre for Performance Management Research and Education at Waterloo.
“We need a new model for professional development given the pace of change and the ever-expanding scope of the body of knowledge,” says Vanden Bosch. “As an educational institution, we have a responsibility to society for professional development opportunities and we need lifelong learning to deliver on that responsibility.”
Collaborating to upskill CPAs
Leveraging four decades of feedback with employers and the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario (CPA Ontario), Waterloo’s School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) is developing talent to meet industry needs. Working with CPA Ontario and WatSPEED, a new professional education unit at the University, Waterloo is developing lifelong learning courses that allow early career professionals to upskill so they remain competitive and agile.
The collaboration between CPA Ontario and Waterloo is an ideal scenario: the School of Accounting and Finance provides educational expertise, CPA Ontario brings the target audience and WatSPEED provides the delivery mechanism.
Integrating data analytics into the curriculum
Vanden Bosch has been a key part of SAF’s curriculum enhancements and says it’s necessary to embed and integrate the impact of technology trends, such as data analytics, into the accounting and finance curriculum.
Armed with feedback from alumni on the need for new skills in a data-centric world, Vanden Bosch and her team pivoted Waterloo’s curriculum to equip Accounting and Finance students with the knowledge to work with big data that is connected to financial situations and reporting. Through testing and refinement of courses in the Master of Accounting program and the undergraduate program, they have now created enough data analytics courses to offer a specialization.
“CPAs are helping to shape a data-driven economy. They are strategic, trusted advisors to all business sectors and should be agile when it comes to change,” Vanden Bosch says. “We must equip them to respond to major shifts, whether it’s in technology, the collection and interpretation of data or societal disruptions, such as the effects of the pandemic.”
Data analytics, identified as the first in a series of topic areas, leverages Vanden Bosch’s deep knowledge and experience in accounting, finance and business issues with Professor Theo Stratopoulos’ expertise in data analytics to develop and deliver the course. The Predictive Analytics for CPAs course was first offered in the fall of 2021.
Next steps in the lifelong learning journey
SAF has unique partnership programs that integrate mathematics, biotechnology, computer science and sustainability. It aims to be on the forefront of forecasting future skills and capabilities required for accounting and finance professionals.
When units across campus create partnerships, such as with SAF and WatSPEED, they leverage depth of expertise to deliver learning that allows graduates and industry professionals to keep pace with emerging technologies and navigate ever-changing workplaces. Through these partnerships, and the establishment of WatSPEED, Waterloo is continuously developing talent and setting up graduates and early career professionals for prolonged career success.