PwC Trains HBCU Professors As Part of $3 Billion Digital Upskilling Initiative

PwC, the $41 billion global accounting and consulting services giant, is helping professors from historically black colleges and universities prepare students for the demands of the 21st-century workforce. As part of its $3 billion investment in digital upskilling, the firm is training educators so they can provide their students with comprehensive, technology-based instruction and vital information on the latest tools.

The program is expected to have a great impact on the recruitment of a diverse, tech-proficient workforce at PwC and throughout the accounting industry.

“Closing the digital skills gap is one of society’s biggest issues right now. PwC understands how high these stakes are, so we are putting digital upskilling at the core of our business strategy for the foreseeable future,” US Chair and Senior Partner Timothy F. Ryan wrote in an essay posted on LinkedIn. “We have decided to invest in digital training for our people as well as bringing that training to underserved communities and to our clients. Our investment to digital transformation is unmatched—through our commitment, “New World, New Skills,” we’re investing $3 billion globally to improve the skills and knowledge of millions of people around the world.”

Developing The Next Generation of Tech-Proficient Professionals

The initiative comes at a time when such training and exposure has grown in urgency, especially targeted to Gen Z. A recent Yahoo! Finance article reported on an Institute of Coding poll of 16- to 18-year-olds, revealing that young people may reject the pursuit of digital tech careers due to lack of diversity and equal opportunities. IoC found that 56% of respondents believed the industry requires more inclusivity, and the majority of those polled maintained that the digital sector is run entirely by white men. Moreover, 1 in 10 conceded to having “put off” exploration of tech careers because they do not see themselves reflected within the industry.

Related: North Carolina A&T Students Gain Scholarships, Professional Exposure at Black Enterprise’s HBCU Hackathon

Rod Adams, PwC’s US Talent Acquisition Leader, says the initiative seeks, in part, to engage and develop the next crop of entry-level professionals, noting that 79% of CEOs are worried about their employees having the right set of tech and data skills. That focus is an outgrowth of the firm’s efforts to upgrade the capabilities of its 55,000 employees.

PwC designed “Your Tomorrow” two years ago as an offshoot of the broader program with the intent, Adams says, of helping employees gain “a baseline level of digital acumen.” He says the firm first introduced its Digital Fitness App to assess and score each employee and then design a custom curriculum based on an individual’s evaluation and job function. From there, employees can earn a “digital acumen knowledge badge” once they gain verification of awareness related to fourth industrial revolution concepts such as AI, blockchain, data analytics and their impact on PwC, clients’ businesses and the marketplace. In fact, the firm gained 80% voluntary participation from its workforce at that stage.

According to Adams, employees could then choose to move on to the two-day, immersive digital academy “where you would really go deep into tools. So you could learn how to build process automation and visualizations using different data tools.” Thus far, more than 25,000 people have been a part of that experience.

HBCUs Represent Part of PwC’s National Recruitment Strategy

Last year, PwC decided to make these learning opportunities available externally to 251 college and university professors, including 31 instructors from accounting programs at 17 HBCUs. “We rolled out the Digital Fitness App to professors and teachers around the country, free of charge. We paid for their user license so they could take the assessment and learn what was available for them to help upskill themselves,” Adams maintains. “Then in March, we rolled out our first digital academy for college faculty and hosted several of those sessions.” Participants gained insight into, among other elements, leveraging workflow and automation tools from Alteryx and Microsoft Power BI as well as the suite of data visualization applications from Google and Tableau. In turn, they can pass that valuable information on to their students.

“We obviously have a pretty robust hiring objective,” asserts Adams. “We’re hiring a lot of entry-level individuals right off the campus, and we invest in those relationships with the university. What we kept hearing from them was that the students needed to have more familiarity with how to wrangle data, create insights for data, use data with visualization tools. But a little bit of information wasn’t enough for them to really extend.”

To achieve that end, PwC held its inaugural HBCU Faculty Forum in June. Roughly 44 HBCU faculty members from 24 institutions met with PwC partners and staff to review the value of these schools as part of the firm’s national recruiting strategy and how to incorporate critical digital skills that will be required of their students into their existing curriculums.

Lynette I, Wood, a CPA and professor from North Carolina-based Winston-Salem State University, attended PwC’s two- day Data Analytics and Automation Academy for Faculty last August in which she gained a better understanding of emerging technology, an introduction to valuable digital tools and participated in a series of instructive, hands-on exercises. “I am confident that developing digital acumen would strengthen my students’ learning experience. Being familiar with current tools and processes would help them to be valuable additions to the work environment of today’s most successful companies,” says Wood, who now realizes the value of earning multiple digital technology certifications. “With technology transforming business at a phenomenal speed, our students need to be competent and confident in that space. Developing a curriculum that prepares students for a world where technology plays a central role is not optional in today’s environment.”