Achieving a Competitive Advantage Through Certification in the Digital Age

FEB 2022, Dennis Whitney, CMA
Senior Vice President, Certifications, Exams, & Content Integration at IMA (Institute of Management Accountants)

In the Digital Age, technology is transforming how business is conducted and enterprises must adapt to stay competitive and profitable. Layered on top of longer-term technological transformation, enterprises also need to factor in global and regional political disruption and other economic uncertainties. 

Many organizations may also see employee turnover increasing as hybrid and remote work become the norm for knowledge workers. At the same time, the introduction of new and emerging technologies such as AI, robotics, and automation are ensuring that many routine tasks are being automated. Employees whose jobs are routine and focused primarily on repetitive tasks face the risk of being made redundant. Another challenge is the skills gap faced by new employees who often lack the skills required by their organizations in a dynamic work environment. 

Nowhere are these challenges being felt more than in the finance and accounting domains of enterprises where daily routine tasks are being automated. The pace of change being driven by new data-centric business models, shifts in consumer behavior, and economic uncertainties, is impacting and transforming the role of the finance function. In such a dynamic business ecosystem, it is important to understand where the finance function is heading if one intends to remain at the forefront of the profession. 

All stakeholders collectively need to reimagine the future of the profession to empower decisions with more data while automating tasks to free up the finance function so that it can focus on strategic management and its business partner role. In this context, finance and accounting professionals, especially entry-level ones, need to develop deeper skillsets that encompass expanded areas of competency, whether they choose to pursue a position in a specific industry, public or private accounting, or any other type of organization. 

Professional certifications are a route for entry level professionals and mid-career professionals to address the skills gap. Certifications help bridge the knowledge gap and attest to a candidate’s ability to proficiently perform the duties of a designated position. The adoption of technology has advanced significantly in an extremely short period of time and it is altering job responsibilities across firms of all sectors resulting in widening skills gaps, mass resignation, and performance inconsistencies, among other issues. 

With an increase in compensation remaining a major motivator for most professionals, it is important to note that certifications are correlated with higher compensation. Certified professionals also have a lower unemployment rate than uncertified professionals. Certification signifies competence, and multiple studies suggest that quality training and continued education are critical for employee competence, job satisfaction, and employee success.

Professional certification programs, as well as on-demand tailored training and online certificate programs, need to be aligned to workplace requirements and market trends. They need to factor in the profession’s work tasks and everyday responsibilities, as well as its future direction. Hiring certified professionals can solve long-term hiring challenges and add significant value to an organization by ensuring that new hires are competent and qualified in their new roles. This leads to a productive work culture with a demonstrated increase in business proficiency. The success of an organization’s finance and accounting function is favorably connected with the encouragement and incentivization of professional certification. 

Certifications help with retention, not just hiring. Encouraging employees to get certified helps companies solve many HR-related issues. Certifications are one of the best ways to finding good talent and retaining them for the long term. They are also considered one of the most effective practices for preparing employees to adapt to a changing corporate environment and can be a rewarding option for individuals whose jobs have changed in the years following their original education and training. This, in turn, aids HR operations in resolving performance issues and hiring-retention challenges.

A recent IMA study, “Achieving a Competitive Advantage in the Digital Age – The Value of Training and Certification,” presents very strong evidence of the benefits resulting from organizations supporting professional certification. The significance placed on professional certification by businesses, as well as the training and development of employees for technological change, has a direct and fundamental impact on the effectiveness and performance of various departments within a firm. Organizations of all sizes should seriously consider the advantages they will gain from sponsoring the professional certification of their employees.