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By Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK

Ask the question ‘what do you want to be when you are older?’ to a group of 12 year olds and you will get a variety of answers from premiership footballer to X-Factor winner, to more familiar careers like teacher. Having those dreams at that age is important, it’s good for children to strive to be famous or rich or to enter a career that helps others. In reality only a very tiny proportion of those that answer premiership footballer will have a career in sport. An even smaller number will be lucky enough to have a career in the music industry. A much larger number will end up in one of the many professions that are vital to the global economy, but how many of those 12 year olds that you ask will mention one of those professions – very few.

There are a couple of good reasons for this. Firstly, many of the professions are not considered aspirational – very few aspire to be an accountant, a banker, an HR manager. However, if you phrased the question differently you might get a different response. If you asked: ‘When you are older would like to work for Facebook, for Apple, for Manchester United, for Universal Records, for an organisation that has offices in New York, Sydney, Singapore and London?’ It would be expected that the number putting their hands up would increase significantly.

The second reason is that young people are often not aware of the vast range of professions out there, and even if they are, have little idea whether they can gain access to that type of career. Social mobility is a buzzword of the moment, but it’s critical that if we want to make sure young talent comes into the professions, we have to ensure they are aware of the opportunities.

While a career in the professions may not be aspirational it is highly rewarding, secure and challenging. During the recent financial crisis most finance professionals, especially accountants, not only remained in employment and received pay rises but also became more and more vital to their organisations. They are now playing a major role in forward planning and business strategy, not just tax returns and audit.

Professions are hugely important to the health of the economy: they keep businesses running, employing staff, paying tax and keeping GDP ticking over. So while being a professional might initially not seem an exciting role, the reality is that you will be at the forefront of your company, your decisions will carry weight right up to boardroom level and you will have the respect of the people who shape the company.

ACCA is one of the founding members of the UK’s first ever Professions Week, and I am the chair of the initiative’s steering group. Starting next week, it aims to raise awareness of what potential career and employment opportunities there are. Get more information via the Twitterfeed too.


By Faye Chua, head of future research, ACCA

Labels such as ‘constant flux’, ‘change’ and ‘uncertainty’ have often been used to characterise the global economy over the past few years. And no matter what course of action is taken or the level of appetite for public sector intervention, it seems that volatility is here to stay having become the new normal.

Over the next decade, the global landscape will constantly be reshaped by a number of drivers. Those that will have the greatest influence are market volatility, continued globalisation and innovation, shifts in wealth and power, economic uncertainty and political transitions. These trends will be magnified by rapid advances in science and technology, demographic changes and the emergence of new business models.

So how flexible and agile does one need to be to weather these shifts and volatility? Businesses will need to do more than simply adapt. They will need to be constantly innovating and re-inventing themselves in order to survive and thrive.

You will remember, back in the old days of dial-up modem, when ICQ was one of the coolest internet instant messaging services available. It was then overtaken by MSN Messenger when broadband became conventional. A few years later and large strides in mobile technology raised the stakes and brought us Facebook and BlackBerry messenger 24/7. And today the majority of us are ‘tweeting’ and ‘pinning’ as well. The pace of technological advance has led to the demise of many businesses while a handful of survivors have prospered.

There is no doubt that technological developments are dominating strategy discussion for many businesses of all sizes. As businesses will need to pursue technological leadership, embrace IT advances and leverage technology effectively as well as develop the capabilities of their employees to work with, adapt to and getting the best out of a multi-location, multicultural and age-diverse workforce. Additionally, new mindsets and approaches to technology management are also crucial in maximising value in the next decade.

But there’s more. Technology isn’t the only answer.

Businesses will need to assume and plan for volatility. They will need to account for turbulence as a very real possibility and develop strategies for a range of different economic and market scenarios will become essential. At the same time, they will need to improve their scanning skills to prepare for a wide range of possibilities, tolerate uncertainty and ‘seeing around the corners’. At an operational level, development of a truly global model is becoming a real priority which will require business to prepare for true globalisation. Finally, for companies to be successful in a fast-changing and increasingly complex environment it is essential to develop a curious, experimental and adaptable mental attitude – a critical success factor.

All this is much more easier said than done. But one thing that I’ll bet on is that the rate of change will only increase quite literally at an exponential rate and definitely beyond historical levels, and this can be scary and inspirational at the same time with difficult to envisage effects across the global economy.