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How to stay relevant without ‘LeArNinG to CoDe’

Editor’s note: This article contains content with our partner ACCA, so the examples given will be mostly from the accounting industry.

That said, much of the same things should apply to other sectors as well.

During my last year in university – that’s 2013 – I felt a sudden urge to prepare for the working world. After some googling, I determined that coding was the way to go.

NGL, I spent weeks on Codecademy learning HTML5 and CSS in between uni essays. I even downloaded the very colourful Sublime Text to help me write code better.

Unfortunately, this tale of upskilling did not have a happy ending.

While initially breezing past HTML and CSS, I got stuck at Javascript’s relatively simple For Loops.

After several days of no progress, frustration kicked in, and I eventually gave up.  By the time I hit the workforce as a clueless arts student, I had forgotten what I learnt.

I’ve not revisited coding ever since.

If you’re a millennial like me, chances are you might have tried something similar.

Many people think of coding and other similar one-off hard skills as a gateway to relevance in the future, but coding is not for everyone, and you can’t have EVERYONE code.

No need to worry though, there are so many other ways to stay relevant and valuable. Here are some to bear in mind.

Rethinking Sustainability

The first thing that comes to mind when you say ‘sustainability job’ will probably be something like: ‘Marine biologist working for the WWF”.

These days though, the definition of ‘sustainability job’ is slightly different.

In the past, sustainability was ‘corporate social responsibility’ – companies could get away with doing nasty shit if they had a fluffy ‘feel-good’ campaign that changed people’s perceptions about them.

These days, sustainability has a way clearer definition, and more companies are getting onboard it.

If that sounds vague and nebulous, you can think about it like this:

The idea is that being ethical and responsible players will help them gain trust with investors, the public and of course, improve a company’s profitability in the long run.

There are three main factors: Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), and these are expected to be baked into a company’s business model.

The implication here? Even if there aren’t new sustainability jobs created, expect to see frameworks and standards being implemented.

Even if you are not an expert in environmental stuff like marine biology, “sustainability” is big and broad enough now that you can probably find a way to service a corporation’s sustainability effort indirectly.

In the field of accounting, for example, sustainability reporting is now mandatory for companies who want to get listed.

In addition to checking financial statements, an auditor might also check if a factory is sourcing its raw materials from an ethical source. An accountant might develop a sustainable framework for companies to be implemented. Taken together, the combined financial and sustainability reports enable a better assessment of the company’s financial prospects and quality of management.

PS: No matter which industry you’ve worked in, there’s probably already a white paper for sustainability.

Be creative and open to change

Creativity is often confused with being artistic and expressing one’s self. That is a fluffy, limiting and inaccurate interpretation of the term.

What creativity actually refers to is your ability to use existing knowledge in a new situation, to make connections, explore potential outcomes, and generate new ideas.

Or, in simple terms, combining knowledge from unexpected sources to make new shit.

All of these things were creative when they first appeared:

  • Showing people content according to their preferences instead of via chronological order is creative. (Social Media Algorithms)
  • Allowing people to hail taxis via their phones is creative. (First Uber, then Grab)
  • Imagining headphones without wires is creative (Air Pods)

The main focus here is creating something new, and with tech, the possibilities are huge.

And yes, while knowing how to build programmes and apps will be an advantage, you should not write yourself off if you don’t know how to code.

After all, using tech and upskilling is different from learning how to code.

In the field of accounting, it’s about finding creative ways to perform traditional tasks or improve upon them.

An accountant might be asked to come up with innovative pricing models, propose cost-effective methods for new products.

Another possible way is to look for new ways to use data: predict how your business might evolve in the future instead of simply analysing the present.

For example, regression analysis techniques can be applied via tools like old-school Microsoft Excel add-in data analytics (ToolPak, SPSS, SAS, Minitab).

Focus on people and relationships

Technology might be transforming at a rapid pace, but the brains we use haven’t changed much in the last 10,000 years.

We still place emotions over facts, love good storytelling and often rely on stereotypes to judge quickly (check out this great 1998 article from HBR.)

As much as people like to say tech is the future, managing human relationships has been, and will continue to be important for the foreseeable future.

Look, being a technocrat is one thing. Being a leader who is able to sell a vision to a team is another.

As long as we are not ruled by robots, abilities such as empathy, emotional intelligence, communication and persuasion still matter – just ask any decent politician – or entrepreneur even.

And if the robots take over, then everyone – even the coders – are screwed anyway. So learn to be a people person, it’ll keep you safe from the robots.

In the field of accounting, jobs such as bookkeeping are getting subbed out to shared centres and robot process automation (RPA).

The implication here is that accountants can no longer rely on being purely good at numbers. They’ve got to do the things that the robots can’t do.

Or, you might be asked to use data to convince stakeholders and management. You’ll need communication and persuasion skills for those.

Think of yourself as a business

At the risk of sounding painfully obvious, one of the most trusted ways of becoming future-proof in every era is….wait for it – to be able to hire people who have the latest skills.

While it’s not impossible, keeping up with the latest technological changes over decades and decades can be challenging.

However, running a business is a skill in itself, and you can bet that there will always be tech people looking for work.

Of course, the caveat here is that running a business is not that simple. Yes, having significant resources to hire people helps. But you will also need:

  1. A basic idea of how to run a company and do your accounts.
  2. Creativity if you want to start an innovative company that isn’t obsolete from day 1.
  3. Networks to help you get good people in the company and people skills to manage them well.

Everyone has their own talents

No one is denying that tech has a huge part to play in the future.

But you’d be misguided if you think we should all be software engineers.

People are good at different things, and in the highly unlikely scenario everyone became a software engineer, it would lead to software engineers being lowly paid.

Our take? Don’t make the mistake of jumping into what’s hot at the moment, because you could have no natural ability nor passion for it.

Instead of jumping on the bandwagon, take time to see what you’re good at.

Yes, the future is bright if you can write code. But it’s also bright if you’re an entrepreneur, a content creator (or even an accountant hehe).

But let’s not create a false dichotomy – it doesn’t mean that all of us need to become software developers.

Some skills are timeless.

Some skills, like tech, require constant upgrading.

Your best chance of success in the long term? Having a little bit of both.

Stay woke, salaryman.

A message from our sponsor, ACCA

Hate it or not, in the future there will be no such thing as ‘tech job’ vs ‘non-tech job.’ We will all be in jobs using tech.

If you’re in the finance industry and worried about being irrelevant, the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is a global accountancy body focused on building the profession, progressing international standards, and making society fairer and more transparent.

Their qualifications develop strategic business leaders, forward-thinking professionals with the financial, business and digital expertise essential for the creation of sustainable organisations and flourishing societies.

This article was slightly inspired by their white paper that you can read here (we took a few liberties with it).

ACCA also just concluded their virtual conference 2021 where they talked about Sustainable Finance, Digital Trade Networks, AI and Intelligent Automation amongst many things. If you’re interested in checking it out, click here.

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