Date posted: 06/05/2021

What does the future of professions hold?

Disruption is changing the world around us, so what does the future of professions look like for young professionals?

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Technological innovation and global economic uncertainty disrupt the world of work. But disruption can also be a catalyst for change and growth.

Chartered Accountants ANZ's thought leadership paper, The 21st Century Profession, highlights how change gives young professionals an opportunity to learn how to adapt and upskill to remain relevant and thrive in the future of work.

We deep dive into what the future of professions looks like according to the data, and explore the characteristics young professionals need to make a difference in the 21st century.

Being grounded in ethics is key

The Australian Council of Professions defines a 'profession' as "a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards."1  This group also possess "special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level."2

Professions set themselves apart from other occupations by their commitment to ethical codes.

In the survey conducted as part of The 21st Century Profession, all respondents ranked practicing a code of ethics as the most important characteristic of a profession, ahead of expertise and education.

These results suggest that expertise must be supported by ethics and integrity, as a professional code of ethics guides individuals on making decisions that are ethical, as opposed to only considering what is legal.

While adhering to rules and regulations is essential, following a code of ethics provides professionals with a guide on how to address regulatory gaps with an ethical lens.

The IESBA International Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants lists integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality and professional behaviour as fundamental principles of ethics for the accounting profession.3

Learn to become an "expert"

There are many ways you can work on becoming an expert, but one key method is by making a commitment to lifelong learning.4

A number of responses to the general public survey conducted as part of The 21st Century Profession paper challenged the traditional thinking about the characteristics of a profession.

63% of respondents said members of a profession need expert knowledge, but only 37% of respondents believe that members of a profession should require a university degree and sit professional exams.5

This indicates a belief that expert knowledge does not necessarily come from a university degree or professional competency exams, and that becoming an expert can be achieved through professional development.

Futurist Rocky Scopelliti, author of 'Australia 2030! Where the bloody hell are we?' says it's no longer enough to follow the traditional path of going to university and staying in the same job. To succeed, you need to think about learning as 'lifelong.'

"When I went through university, you did your degree to become an accountant or lawyer, and then that's what you were meant to do for the next 30 years. We can no longer look at learning as though it's a one-off event. The secret to a successful career is learning how to adapt and be relevant," says Rocky.

"You can be taught AI, blockchain and robotics, but learning how to apply the core skills of problem solving, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking to your profession is key to your success. They are the transferable skills that can take you in any direction."

Studying the ongoing changes in your line of work and industry, as well as technology and wider workforce trends is a great place to start to position yourself as an expert - rather than just knowledgeable - so you're well prepared for the future of work.

Be open to transparency

As highlighted by Commissioner Hayne in the 2019 "Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry" report - discipline, transparency and accountability are necessary for fostering integrity and building trust.6

The findings of The 21st Century Profession survey show there is a strong demand for professions to change in their behaviours, particularly from young Chartered Accountants, with 95% agreeing professions need to change.

More than two thirds of the general public respondents, and almost half of Chartered Accountants respondents, say professions must be more transparent, and learn to communicate the factors they have considered in reaching their conclusions and recommendations.

"Trust inequality is an acute issue creating a discord in Australia, compared to other nations. The model of trust as it has been created in the past and that we've lived by, is fundamentally redundant," says Scopelliti.

"One of the predictions I made was that we will trust technology more than we will trust institutions such as the government, banks and retailers. And that was overwhelmingly supported in the Australia 2030 research, with 60% of the respondents believing that we will trust technology more than institutions over the coming decade."

There is a clear opportunity for professions to work alongside technologies like AI and blockchain to build trust. A transparent approach to explaining what you do, how you do it and the value you add through being both disciplined and accountable can help those you interact with feel more confident in your abilities as a professional.

Embrace technological change

According to Rocky, technological development will ramp up exponentially in the future, so it is important to familiarise yourself with new technologies, understand how innovation can generate efficiencies in the workplace, and develop the skills you need to remain relevant in a changing world.

"Technology will profoundly change the way in which you perform your profession, so having an open mind to change is key. Although technology will make things cheaper, faster and smarter, your role as a professional will not disappear as your ability to incorporate these technologies and adapt your work will be key," says Rocky.

Technology is changing the way all professions deliver their services.7  Although technology is frequently identified as the most significant threat to professions, research from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suggests that across OECD countries, only approximately 9% of jobs are automatable.

This means that while technology may replace some repetitive tasks, professions will continue to play the vital human role of interpreting information and determining what's relevant.

Futurist Rocky Scopelliti
Futurist Rocky Scopelliti
"The 21st Century Profession survey reported that across OECD countries, only approximately 9% of jobs are automatable."
Futurist Rocky Scopelliti

Pursue a 'purpose beyond profit'

In contrast to the long-held belief that the purpose of a business is simply to maximise profit for its shareholders, 84% of general public respondents and 94% of Chartered Accountants believe professions need a purpose beyond profit, according to The 21st Century Profession survey.

This is supported by research published by a New Zealand market research firm, which reported that 86% of people consider it important to work for a company that is socially and environmentally responsible.

Society expects professions to model social and environmental responsibility, as well as cultural awareness. Leaders of organisations have an opportunity to promote a culture of "purpose beyond profit," and by extension professionals can achieve their personal sense of purpose by making a difference to business, economies and societies through their work.

"When we look at the things Australian professionals may consider to be important in a job, these include whether the role fulfils their sense of purpose, and how they can make an impact on society in their work. This was found across all demographic groups."

Consider whether your personal values are being fulfilled through your work or hobbies. If yes, you're living out your 'purpose beyond profit' through those activities.

There's likely to be continued change in the way that professions operate in the future. By being dynamic and demonstrating a willingness to adapt, young professionals can ensure that their skills and expertise remain relevant in the future of professions.

The 21st Century Profession

Professions that leverage disruption will continue to make a difference into the 21st century. Read Chartered Accountants ANZ’s thought leadership paper, The 21st Century Profession and discover how you can look forward and continue to adapt to stay relevant.

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