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The future of work: an interview with a corporate undertaker

Anna Pino and Candice Edye

Future of WorkCanberra is booming with new businesses, new suburbs and new startups popping up quicker than we can count It’s a city people want to live in and a city that its locals love. A city filled with talent, entrepreneurial minds and creative ideas that connect more than just people…Ideas that connect a city and a community. In a new HerCanberra series with Candice Edye and Anna Pino from Lighthouse Innovation, you can read about local businesses and the brains behind them, the lessons learnt and how you can apply them to your own innovative ideas and dreams. 

Speaking to an insolvency practitioner seems like a strange place to start a story on The Future of Work.  However, Tony Lane from Vincents Chartered Accountants, a Canberra insolvency and forensic accounting practice, provides us with a rather unique view when it comes to understanding which businesses are likely to be around in the next decade and therefore what the future of work might look like.

Insolvency practitioners are often maligned in the media—called all sorts of nasty things like a ‘corporate undertaker’ or ‘financial street-sweeper’.  In Tony’s view, the criticism is unfair as insolvency practitioners do more than clean up the mess of others and put companies ‘to bed’; they provide a public service and are a real-time source of business intelligence.

So, can people like Tony play the role of the proverbial ‘canary in the mineshaft’—an early indication of trouble ahead?

Tony provides some insights about the drivers of change in his own industry and what that means for the people that work in it.

“Looking at legal and accounting firms, these businesses are going to be challenged by new ways of work as we continue through this decade and beyond. This is simply because the way we have been traditionally structured just doesn’t work anymore,” says Tony.

“There are certainly technological advances that have helped professional practices work more efficiently, and some firms and practices are ahead of others in utilising these.”

Tony uses the example of the rise of cloud-based accounting software like Xero and the effect that it has had on traditional accounting firms.

“The way technology has evolved, means that 9 to 5 isn’t an expectation of consumers, rather 7 to 7 is more accurate. Clients want to be able to talk to their advisors when they want to, not just during office hours.”

Tony believes that changing customer expectations provide both opportunities and challenges.

“It’s about being able to make yourself more accessible, but also control that to a point where you aren’t being bombarded at all hours of the day.”

He also believes that where we work will change.

Tony Lane from Vincents Chartered Accounts is what some might call the 'canary in the mineshaft'...but he thinks otherwise.

Tony Lane from Vincents Chartered Accounts is what some might call the ‘canary in the mineshaft’…but he thinks otherwise.

“Teleworking and outsourcing will have an obvious impact on how we work. The concern with globalisation is that because of the mobility of labour and the intrinsic inertia of heavy capital, there will be a continuing shift away from bricks and mortar presence and toward a more flexible and mobile workforce.

“What impact does that have on the local economy? It means we need to be smarter, capitalise on our competitive advantage—what do we do here that gives us an edge over a competitor abroad?”

To meet these challenges, Tony believes that one of the key skills required by future employees will continue to be that of good communication skills.

“The skill set that Generation Y and Z and beyond need to continue to work on are communication skills. The art of doing business will still be in talking to people, communicating what you do and why your offer is better than someone else’s.  While you can do that remotely to a point, through a smart device or another communication medium, at the end of the day you will still need to talk to someone.

“For future generations, it’s going to be about how we maintain a solid communication skill set whilst using technology to its greatest advantage.”

So how do we prepare for a future world of work? Tony has three tips:

“Firstly, don’t be too concerned with the right career choice or long term career plan now. I thought I had at 18 or 19, and it changed. And it’s changed a couple of times along the way.

“Rather get an understanding of what you like and don’t like, not just what you’re good at. You can get all the financial rewards for doing something you’re good at, but if you don’t enjoy it you won’t succeed.

“Secondly, modern generations seem more attracted by the ‘shiny things’. I want to encourage emerging generations to look beyond that, scratch the surface to see what’s superficial and what’s real and evaluate a career choice or employment offer carefully. More and more, employers will be hiring for character and training skill, rather than hiring the most skilful and hoping their character is a good fit.

“Finally, what do people need? Look around and understand what’s happening in your world.  As technology evolves so to do opportunities that become available. The context of the world helps you to forge a career and breeds entrepreneurialism.”

So, is our ‘canary’ optimistic about the future?

“I’m entirely optimistic about opportunities for the future —both within my practice and beyond that. We’re achieving great things and impressing a lot of people.

“Personally, my wife and I are very happy in Canberra and I think it’s a wonderful environment to raise our family.

“Whilst I am getting out of bed every morning with a smile on my face, as I’m doing right now, there’s plenty reasons to keep doing what I’m doing—I love my work and at the end of the day, you can’t ask for more than that!”

Feature image of young businesswoman standing atop a mountain courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Candice Edye

Anna Pino and Candice Edye are from Lighthouse Business Innovation Centre, an innovation consultancy based in Canberra. Lighthouse helps start-ups, small businesses, not-for-profits and established organisations turn their ideas into reality. By providing business advice, education and training, mentorship and networking opportunities, Lighthouse helps organisations to commercialise their ideas and grow their companies. Visit More about the Author

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