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Bookkeeping jobs slashed, more disruption on the way

Singapore

JOB functions that are labour intensive and require little human judgment are at "immediate risk" of displacement due to technological advances and global competition, says National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay.

In a blog post highlighting disruption in the accountancy sector, he warned that those in admin and data entry, transactions processing or bookkeeping could be at risk.

As it is, the number of Singaporeans employed as accounting and bookkeeping clerks has declined by 4,900 (15 per cent) between 2012 to 2017, according to statistics from the Ministry of Manpower.

Technologies like robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and data analytics could upset careers in future, according to results from a roundtable discussion organised by NTUC and the Singapore Accountancy Commission in April.

"Global forces will put pressure on companies to transform their business models and processes to stay competitive," Mr Tay wrote, adding that there was urgent need to prepare the workforce today for these changes.

"The clock is ticking on jobs which are vulnerable to disruption."

At a roundtable discussion on managing disruption in the Singapore accountancy industry - attended by more than 40 chief financial officers (CFOs) and chief human resource officers (CHROs) - around three-quarters of participants agreed that technology will be a key driver of disruption in the industry.

The CFOs and CHROs in attendance underscored a need to train workers in at-risk roles in more "soft" skills to enhance their communication, analytical, digital and change management skills.

Accounting positions in clan associations, societies and non-profit organisations and human resource functions were some of the positions identified as requiring more training in such skills.

The short-term impact on vulnerable jobs can likely be seen in 5 years. They would be obsolete in 10-20 years, Mr Tay highlighted.

Meanwhile, top jobs cited by NTUC requiring specialised technical skills include business and data analytics, strategic business advisory, business partnering, management accounting and risk management.

There was "an increasing need for accountancy professionals to possess analytical and communication skills and business acumen to provide strategic insights to business", said Mr Tay, who is also the director of NTUC's future jobs, skills and training (FJST) team.

To help employers and workers through digital transformation, NTUC has partnered with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and AI Singapore - a programme under the National Research Foundation - to support capability development of finance and accounting professionals under the ACC(X)ELERATE programme.

Under the programme, ACCA will leverage on AI Singapore's digital expertise to assist small and medium-sized businesses and small and medium-sized professional services firms adopt technology to transform their businesses and take active steps to develop their workforces' skill sets.

There is a need to "raise workers" awareness of the changes that are coming and the urgent need for them to accept and embrace change", noted Mr Tay.