Singapore’s accounting industry urged to redesign jobs amid risks from automation, ‘Great Resignation’ trends

SINGAPORE’S professional services sector should keep an eye on the “Great Resignation” trend in other economies, Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah told the industry on Wednesday (Jan 5).

She was speaking at the launch of jobs transformation maps (JTMs) for in-house finance and accounting, and accounting practices – the latest such plan, after similar schemes for fields such as human resources and wholesale trade.

In line with the move, the Productivity Solutions Grant for Job Redesign will cover up to 80 per cent of firms’ job redesign consultancy costs – with a limit of S$30,000 for each business – until Mar 31, up from the usual 70 per cent.

The funding is part of a job redesign initiative to improve productivity with the help of technology. Some 50 firms and 150 professionals are expected to benefit.

Rajah, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for National Development, noted that “a desire for better work-life balance, more flexible work arrangements and a greater sense of fulfilment” has fuelled an exodus of employees in the United States and United Kingdom.

“While we have not quite seen the same phenomenon here, professional services, which typically involve long working hours under high pressure, should not ignore these signs,” the minister said.

“If firms want to take advantage of the growth opportunities that are on the horizon, they should pay serious attention to job redesign, the well-being of their employees, and strengthening of their internal culture, to be in tune with the aspirations of accounting professionals.”

That’s as Chaly Mah, chairman of the Singapore Accountancy Commission (SAC), said that with digitalisation, accountants will increasingly offer strategic value-added advising, rather than historical reporting.

But Mah warned that “process-oriented” roles such as bookkeepers and accounts assistants “may be at risk of being displaced by automation” as well. As such, he called on employers to redesign such jobs, train employees in in-demand new skills, “and continue to invest in digital technologies”.

Meanwhile, plans are under way to train local professionals, managers, executives and technicians for accounting roles, through a career conversion programme slated for launch in the second quarter. The scheme will also retrain workers for new or redesigned roles.

Studies commissioned ahead of the JTM launch identified 11 emerging job roles, such as information technology auditors, which will experience growing demand; as well as 13 roles at risk of automation, such as accounts assistants, which will need worker reskilling and job redesign in the next 2 to 5 years.

Singapore’s accounting professionals industry is expected to add 6,000 to 7,000 jobs by 2025, from a workforce of about 100,000 now.

The new JTMs were launched by the SAC and Economic Development Board, with support from Workforce Singapore and SkillsFuture Singapore. The agencies jointly said that accounting practices “will see accelerated growth in demand for manpower” on increasing digital maturity, higher client demand for advisory services, and more emphasis on “non-financial metrics in valuing businesses”.

In-house finance and accounting “will continue to be critical in supporting companies” in expanding regionally, the statement added.

Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng added in a Facebook post that, besides the higher grant level, “we can look forward to a range of other initiatives that will be launched progressively to support transformation and upskilling of the sector”.