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CPA Survival Toolkit: Part 4 – What You Need to Know About Upskilling

Jun 1, 2021

Part 4 of CPA Survival Toolkit series

CPA Survival Toolkit: Part 4 – What You Need to Know About Upskilling
Upskilling for soft skills traditionally took place in-person at the workplace. The pandemic has created challenges. One solution is virtual reality.

PwC designed a study to examine the effectiveness of virtual reality training designed for soft skills. Managers from 12 U.S. locations took training in inclusive leadership in three modes: classroom, e-learning, and virtual reality (VR). The survey found that “VR can help business leaders upskill their employees faster, even at a time when training budgets may be shrinking and in-person training may be off the table, as people continue to observe social distancing.”16

The same study found that VR learners were four times faster to train in the classroom, 275% more confident to apply skills learned after training, 3.75 times more emotionally connected to content than classroom learners, and four times more focused than their e-learning peers.

Strategies for Upskilling

PwC has a comprehensive six-step strategy for upskilling employees to meet the digital skills gap.
  • Analyze the situation and define the initiative
  • Design a skills plan
  • Assess and advise individual employees
  • Match jobs and engage workers
  • Select training and providers
  • Administer the project and monitor the results

Detailed information about each step is available in the PwC strategy+business publication.17 Although this framework was designed to address the digital skills gap, the strategies outlined are broad enough to also address upskilling for soft skills. 

Jeramy Kaiman, a regional head of professional recruitment at the Adecco Group, recommends that organizations work with their human resources departments to offer mentoring programs, tuition reimbursement, and credential programs to address identified skills needing upgrades. 

Mentoring programs are simple to implement and relatively low-cost as they involve matching employees wishing to learn a certain application with an employee who already has the skill. Tuition reimbursement programs can incentivize employees to take specific training or coursework that is better taught by outside providers. 

Credential programs are numerous and are offered by a wide variety of organizations and modalities. For example, the PICPA offers CPE seminars, webinars, and conferences on these topics. Local colleges and universities also offer for-credit and noncredit courses. There are also online learning platforms such as Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, or Udemy. Leading software providers such as Alteryx, Tableau, and UiPath also offer certificate programs. Finally, many colleges and universities offer advanced degrees in data analytics, AI, and blockchain.

There are important challenges to consider when undertaking an upskilling initiative. The financial investment required to upskill employees is more than the direct training costs; it also entails short-term losses in productivity. Employees will have to spend valuable time in classes instead of on client services or company work. Thus, it is important to keep a long-term perspective on the return on investment. In the long run, successful upskilling efforts should result in increased productivity and outweigh any short-term losses due to the time and resources spent on training. 


The talent gap created by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the additional challenges stemming from the pandemic highlight the importance of continued training and development as a way to build talent, fill jobs, and increase performance. Upskilling for technology and soft skills is essential for the next generation of CPAs and will help ensure the talent pipeline remains strong. Business leaders need to determine the best ways their organizations can benefit from upskilling their workforce, devise a training plan, and execute. Academic accounting programs also need to prepare students for these changes. Now is the time to upskill for the disruption that is already taking place. By doing so, we can all make sure that the accounting profession continues to thrive in the future.  

Did you miss any of the other 3 articles in this series?

CPA Survival Toolkit: Part 1—Your “Must-Knows” & “Must Dos”

CPA Survival Toolkit: Part 2—Technologies

CPA Survival Toolkit: Part 3—Interpersonal Skills

Reprinted with permission from the Pennsylvania CPA Journal, a publication of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants.



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About the Author

Cory Ng, CPA, CGMA, DBA, is an associate professor of instruction in accounting at the Fox School of Business at Temple University in Philadelphia and a member of the Pennsylvania CPA Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at

Brian Trout, CPA, CMA, DBA, is an assistant professor of accounting and finance at Millersville University in Millersville. He can be reached at