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The past year has injected great uncertainty, pressure and anxiety on the economy. Consequently, numerous industries were impacted. As entities and the collective workforce combat these unchartered waters, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Malaysia is aiding the efforts to regain ground amidst the disruption. FLY Malaysia Journalists Melanie Fernandez and Areeshya Thevamanohar were privileged to engage in dialogue with Pauline Ho, PwC Asia Pacific Human Capital Leader, regarding the hurdles introduced by the pandemic, how PwC has responded leveraging its work culture and the impact to hiring practices.
As the representative of the PwC Asia Pacific territories on the Global Human Capital Leadership Team, Pauline, unsurprisingly is passionate about people development. In addition to her audit and advisory experience of over twenty years, she has managed a broad portfolio across numerous industries in both Malaysia and the United Kingdom. Outside work, she enjoys spending time with her triplets, reading, cycling and baking amongst other passions.
Industry Employment and the Pandemic
The current corporate climate has been referred to by some as “the worst unemployment crisis in recent history”. Upon being questioned whether she believed this has been exacerbated in selective industries, Pauline responded with realistic positivity. She admits the unemployment rate has been higher in general, while stressing the impact differs across sectors. Honing in on the experiences of people in Finance, Pauline observes continued high demand as the finance function is transforming to evolve with the changing business landscape.
“At PwC, our finance team was able to unlearn a system that they have been using and relearn a new, more integrated system to address the issue of repetitive work and managing voluminous data in our billing processes, to create efficiencies and to provide better insights to financial reporting.”
The hiring practices of the Big 4 firms have been considered highly competitive even prior to the pandemic. Responding to how issues pertaining to recent economic struggles have impacted hiring practices at PwC, Pauline assures that hiring is still ongoing, with focus on talent with specific skills. Considering how PwC’s business nature continues to be relevant amidst the pandemic, they observe increasing interests in the market for assistance in areas related to building resilience, workforce strategy improvement and crisis preparedness. Pauline proceeds to note that no particular department or unit in PwC has been significantly impacted in its hiring practices. This is owing to PwC’s belief in an investment mindset for hiring to ensure they have sufficient resources to meet market demands for when the economy recovers and to build capabilities in areas of growth.
The unending debate regarding the possibility of automating jobs in the accounting industry has resurfaced more prominently than before over the past year. In response to this matter, Pauline stresses the importance of human judgement to remain relevant in the Professional Services industry. In explaining, she drew upon the example of audit engagements.
“The ability to use technology to automate repetitive tasks and query entire populations is certainly useful, yet at the end of the day there will always be a role for human auditors. In accounting and auditing, the application of judgement is critical to getting the right answers and this can’t be replaced by automation”.
Work Culture and Adapting to the Pandemic
The ‘work from home’ phenomenon has led to unprecedented working circumstances. More often than not, this has posed a challenge to the maintenance of organizational efficiency for many companies. However, based on PwC’s experience, Pauline explained that there was minimal disruption as PwC had already embarked on their digital journey pre-pandemic. The organization has employed digital tools to enable flexSpace which allows staff to work away from the office when the need arises. It has also introduced flexTime which provides staff the opportunity to work flexibly by choosing the start and end of their workday beyond ‘regular business hours’ based on personal circumstances, such as caring for a child or an elderly parent. Since these options were already available, it made for a quick and easy transition into working from home during the pandemic.
She adds, “We hope to continue implementing these flexibility practices and sustain the initiatives to cater to our people’s changing needs.” Pauline highlights that productivity is after all, not measured based on the hours spent at work, it instead is measured from the outcomes delivered.
Regarding the roadblocks that come with working from home, she notes that low connectivity on video calls has impacted work efficiency, while the delivery of certain projects have been impacted by a lack of physical presence. As for supporting staff during this period, she highlights that wellbeing has been a central focus. “What we have done is not to change our focus, which has served us well so far, but to emphasize a few areas that are especially relevant during this period where challenges are inevitable while working from home.” Some examples include virtual team building activities outside work, sharing tips on separating work from other commitments when the workspace is now home and team leaders sending care packages to appreciate their people’s contributions and lift their spirits. They also have an employee assistance programme that consists of a free and confidential counseling hotline for staff. Mindfulness classes and wellbeing-related talks are also run by qualified professionals for participants to learn how to respond skillfully to stress by integrating mindfulness techniques into their daily lives.
Youth Employability: Some Advice in Navigating the Pandemic
With a growing talent pool under current circumstances, we spoke to Pauline about the qualities that set a candidate apart in the eyes of PwC Malaysia. We also discussed how hiring practices have been adapted during an unusual work period and whether this has changed the work culture.
She notes the five attributes that make up the PwC Professional are; (i) whole leadership, which is leading yourself and others to make a difference, (ii) business acumen, which is defined as understanding how businesses work and demonstrating analytical thinking, (iii) technical and digital, meaning applying a range of technical, digital and other professional capabilities to deliver quality and value, (iv) global and inclusive which relates to operating and collaborating effectively in different environments including working with colleagues and clients from other cultures and (v) relationships, which is defined as building meaningful relationships and communicating with impact.
Pauline notes that no shift in working culture was required for PwC as the five attributes of the PwC Professional remain relevant regardless of the pandemic. She also notes the importance of having agility and resilience to meet challenges, including uncertainties in anticipating market demand, difficulties juggling client needs while working at home or challenges in getting the team to adopt a new digital solution.
PwC also prioritises a fair and structured selection of applicants during the recruitment stage. They have started using an AI assessment tool which assesses suitability of candidates in a more objective manner. During interviews, she said they also evaluate candidates from a holistic view based on the PwC Professional framework to ensure selections are not just made on first impressions. In line with its inclusive focus, she highlights that students without a finance or accounting background are also eligible to work for the organisation. PwC runs programmes like the Aspiring Accountants Programme which is designed for non-accounting graduates who are keen to pursue a career in accounting, and the Earn While You Learn Programme which allows non-degree graduates (at Diploma level or equivalent) to work full time while pursuing a professional accounting degree qualification, sponsored by the firm.
“For future graduates out there, you are encouraged to take up professional qualifications that are related to the area of work you are interested to venture into. You can also upskill yourselves by taking up free courses which are widely available online.”
We asked Pauline if going forward, we will continue to see hiring being affected and adapted to the economy in the wake of the pandemic. She noted that in an ever-changing world, there are going to be changes or evolution in roles. For example, a job that existed twenty years ago may not exist now. She concludes by saying, “Whether or not hiring is affected, be resilient and agile to adapt to the changes. Take up the challenge and try out a role that’s being offered to you even though it may not be related to your area of study.”
Journalists: Melanie Fernandez, Areeshya Thevamanohar
Reviewers: Sara Yow, Hurriya Irfan
Editor: Natalie Seah
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