April Morris is co-director at CSUF Center for Corporate Reporting and Governance; and professor of Accounting – Data Analytics, Visualizations, Robotic Process Automation.
Jeffrey Bogan is managing director for Tax Technology and Transformation Practice at EY; and adjunct professor of Tax Transformation and Technology at CSUF.
“Mind the gap.”
One often hears this on trains in the United Kingdom.
While rail travel may have slowed in recent months, the phrase is more relevant than ever globally.
As professors at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), we have watched an unaddressed gap grow.
The education and workforce readiness sectors have struggled to prepare a future-ready workforce. Textbooks are usually out of date by the time they are released, and there is often a disconnect between what is taught, and what businesses need.
In this blog, we explore:
- 1. Why automation skills are vitally needed in the workplace
- 2. How to close the education gap
- 3. What it is like to teach automation remotely
Automation in the workforce
Jeff here – I am a managing director in the Tax Technology and Transformation Practice at EY and have been focused in this area for 15 years.
I started out with a traditional tax career, analyzing law, conducting research, etc. I quickly realized that many of my clients were struggling with operational challenges – not enough time in the day, never ending deadlines, budgetary constraints, risk with their calculations, and SOX control deficiencies. Things needed to be done differently, and automation was part of the solution.
EY as a firm embraced Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and internally integrated RPA into its tax services, such as preparing tax returns. We realized RPA can help clients automate many of their tax and accounting processes. We are weaving RPA into our solutions to help companies optimize their processes.
RPA helps accounting and tax professionals save time and reduce risk in their processes and calculations.
In three years, we have seen RPA go from new and novel to mainstream in company business processes. Applications such as RPA are in demand across businesses, accounting firms, and consulting firms.
While students looking for accounting careers still need to have the traditional skillsets (accounting principles, problem solving, analysis, etc.), big data, complex tax law accounting guidance, global transparency initiatives, and complex accounting systems have changed the business landscape. As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, skills must change to contend with the new business environment.
Regarding RPA specifically, companies are looking to complete complex business processes faster. RPA enables companies to achieve business process optimization and we need to ensure that students are ready to take advantage of these opportunities.
How automation closes the education gap
April here – so, the crucial question for us is how can educational institutions narrow the gap? We must embrace changes and incorporate them into classroom curriculum so that everyone wins - students, employers, and educational institutions.
Several years ago, while working on data analytic projects with students, I became acutely aware of how much time is wasted on repetitive tasks like data collection. I have always had a penchant for programming, and I became interested in automating these processes – like visiting the Securities and Exchange Commissions’ (SEC) website and extracting the needed-data straight into a usable Microsoft Excel file.
The UiPath Platform attracted me because it includes both an attended robot (where I tell the robot when to work) as well as an unattended robot (where I program the times when the robot will work). This combination affords me maximum flexibility in building software robots and helping students minimize their automation 'gap’ with critical skills.
To be the best educator I can be, I stay in touch with many industry contacts who share thoughts on business trends. I consulted RPA experts at the major accounting firms and learned that RPA, from automating filing documents to filling in documents, was becoming a key skillset in this digital world—and this was true in the tax, audit, and consulting practices.
In fact, some firms provide a software robot to each of their employees to help them manage emails and workloads. Robots can respond to emails, combine repetitive workflows, and even fill in worksheets.
Robotic skills are increasingly important—and so to prepare CSUF students for an automated future, we created the first Academic Alliance with UiPath in the United States (U.S.). We are very glad we took that step.
Teaching automation remotely
CSUF saw the changing landscape of the accounting profession – the traditional accounting curriculum needs to be updated to ensure students had successful accounting careers.
It wasn’t clear how RPA would relate to students until the UiPath Academic Alliance showed how easy it is to automate a long list of repetitive processes with a robot. This year, we have quickly moved to online learning and rethought how to present some of the course material.
Incorporating UiPath into our classes was easy, and we have already taught UiPath to several hundred students.
Students have enjoyed creating robots to collect data from websites and create formatted Microsoft Excel files that can be exported into Microsoft Power Query/Power BI, Alteryx, and/or Tableau for analysis and visualization.
Each semester, we are excited to see what tasks students automate. One student wrote a robot to help her get the best price for a computer. It searched the web nightly to find pricing on the configuration of a computer system she needed.
Another student helped his employer plan for demand by automating finding the seven-day weather forecast for each company location.
Mind the gap? Indeed. How about “Close the GAP!”? Students are over-the-top excited about this technology.
Prepare your university
In the new, post-pandemic world, businesses are using RPA to maintain operations and augment human potential. Businesses without RPA in their toolkit have a ‘gap.’
If you missed our recent webinar Using Automation to Upskill Students, you can still access the on-demand recording via the UiPath Work Ahead webinar series page.
Want your school or alma mater to teach automation, and help fill it?