The Influence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the Development of Critical Cross-Field Outcomes (soft skills) in Accounting Students in Higher Education Institutions in South Africa: A Systematic Literature Review

Hester Vorster


HED (UP), BCom (UP), MPhil (NMU), Specialist Diploma: Mathematics (UJ)

Lecturer at NWU (Accounting)

Ensovoort, volume 44 (2023), number 11: 5


The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has ushered in significant technological advancements, transforming various industries, including accounting. This systematic literature review (SLR) examines the impact of 4IR on the development of critical cross-field outcomes (CCFOs) among accounting students in South African higher education institutions (HEIs). By applying the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) as a framework, the review explores how motivation and autonomy can be fostered to enhance students’ CCFOs development. Understanding the role of SDT in CCFOs development is crucial for designing effective strategies and interventions in accounting education. The findings of this review shed light on the specific CCFOs in high demand for accountants in the era of 4IR, emphasizing the relevance of these skills for graduate employability. The study underscores the need for HEIs to adapt their accounting curricula to address the evolving industry requirements. By incorporating insights from SDT, this paper offers recommendations for HEIs to re-evaluate their accounting curricula, focusing on enhancing students’ competence, autonomy, and relatedness to navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by the 4IR.


Accounting employers, accounting students, critical cross-field outcomes, employability, Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), higher education, South Africa

Introduction and Background:

This paper investigates the influence of the 4IR on the CCFOs expected from accountants through a (SLR). The relevance of this study lies in the challenges and opportunities that 4IR presents for higher education institutions HEIs in re-evaluating their accounting curricula.

In South Africa, the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) has formulated CCFOs as soft skills to complement all national qualifications specified in the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). SAQA, operating under the South African Qualifications Authority Act, no. 58 of 1995 (SAQA, 1995), is a statutory body responsible for governing these qualifications. SAQA has officially recognized and mandated the inclusion of CCFOs in curricula to promote a conscientious awareness of societal issues among students.

By incorporating CCFOs, HEIs can promote lifelong learning, personal development, ethical business judgment, critical thinking, and social responsibility (Tsiligiris & Bowyer, 2021). According to them accounting students need to apply their knowledge to demonstrate competencies that require a wide range of abilities and attributes. HEIs must expose students to CCFOs at the higher education level, providing learning experiences that facilitate their application and achievement of these skills (Tsiligiris & Bowyer, 2021).

In South Africa, Chartered Accountant (CA) students are governed by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), which is a professional body responsible for regulating and setting standards for obtaining the CA accreditation in the country. SAICA also emphasizes the importance of pervasive skills or CCFOs that students need to develop. As a member of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), SAICA is committed to equipping aspiring CA candidates with the necessary knowledge and skills to excel as professional accountants globally (Strauss-Keevy, 2014).

SAICA (2021) acknowledged the significance of the accounting industry within the context of the 4IR and took a significant step by officially introducing the CA2025 competency framework to all relevant parties on March 10, 2021. The development of the CA2025 competency framework was the outcome of an extensive research project that involved extensive engagement with a diverse range of stakeholders. Despite longstanding demands for improvements in CCFOs within the accounting profession, Rebele and Pierre (2019:78) argue that previous efforts to address this issue have fallen short. They assert that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that accounting educators possess the necessary skills and background to effectively assist students in developing CCFOs.

HE professionals are faced with the imperative of reassessing and devising strategies for educational practices in response to technological advancements and the rapid transformations within the accounting profession (Khermiri, 2021). It is crucial to recognize the significance of this responsibility, as the primary objective of HE institutions is to facilitate students in attaining a reputable degree, equipping them with the necessary knowledge and skills to pursue their chosen careers (Becker et al., 2018). The South African Department of Education (1997) characterizes this mission as fulfilling individuals’ aspirations for self-development, meeting the demand for highly skilled labor, and generating knowledge that benefits both society and the economy.

Literature Review


A concise overview based on Kumar’s summary (2020) of the preceding three industrial revolutions is as follows:

The First Industrial Revolution utilized water and steam power, as well as spinning jennies, resulting in significant enhancements in production efficiency and the emergence of new industries, particularly in textiles and iron production.

The Second Industrial Revolution introduced ground-breaking technologies like electricity and mass production. This era witnessed the development of industries such as automobiles, telecommunications, and electrical power generation.

The Third Industrial Revolution, often referred to as the Digital Revolution, saw the widespread adoption of computers and automation. It brought about the rise of new industries such as e-commerce, social media, and cloud computing.

The term 4IR was popularized by Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Schwab’s book titled “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” published in 2016 further popularized and expanded upon the concept. According to Davids et al. (2022) the term 4IR denotes the present phase of technological progress and innovation that builds upon the advancements of the previous three industrial revolutions. According to them the 4IR is characterized by further advancements in digital technologies, artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, big data analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

These advancements are expected to significantly impact the accounting profession (Hoffman, 2017). According to Karsten et al. (2020), these technological developments not only influence how people interact with their immediate surroundings but also reshape global learning, living, and working dynamics. Instead of jobs completely disappearing, they argue that roles will often undergo significant modifications. Karsten et al. (2020) conclude that the way individuals organize their work and acquire the necessary skills to be productive and valuable in their professional roles will ultimately determine the quality and effectiveness of their work. Gleason (2018b) believes that humans will be essential to the process because of their creative and critical talents. They will act as “cobots,” operating in tandem with newly invented technology to enhance the processes.

The 4IR will bring about change and encourage more companies to employ employees with the necessary skills. To ensure future employment skills, professional development in the workplace will become more crucial. The topic of skill development is frequently debated. A report from the World Economic Forum (WEF, 2018) in Davos, Switzerland, claims that most of the current skills will not be useful to employees. They predict a sharp rise in abilities such as technological design, analytical thinking, and active learning. However, the value of “human” skills like creativity, critical thinking, persuasion, and negotiation will increase. The demand for skills like emotional intelligence, social influence, and leadership will rise.

Overall, the 4IR is expected to have a profound impact on the global economy and society, requiring individuals and organizations to adapt to new technologies and new ways of working.


Parlamis and Monnot (2019:226) mention that even though the interpersonal skills required for effective management have been extensively researched since the 1950s, it was not until the 1970s that a structured endeavour was made to separate the aspects of employment that relate to subject matter knowledge (also known as “hard skills”) from those that relate to working with people (also known as “soft skills”).

The literature review revealed that there are several words used to describe CCFOs; namely CCFOs (SAQA, 1995), soft skills (Stumke, 2021; Berry & Routon, 2020; Whitmore, 1972), people skills (Borghans et al., 2014), intangible skills (Ali et al., 2020), interpersonal and personal skills (Tesch et al., 2008), pervasive skills (Viviers, 2016; Strauss-Keevy, 2014), generic skills (Jääskelä, 2018; Kearns, 2001), transferrable skills (Pardos‐Prado & Xena, 2019), and human skills (Pelau, 2021; Pant & Baroudi, 2008; Bartlett, 1947). For this article and from a South African perspective, the researcher will collectively refer to these terms as ‘CCFOs’.

Joie-La Marle et al. (2022:2) state that CCFOs first surfaced in 1972 and were seen as crucial, however, these were not well observed, understood, or evaluated. According to them, besides the cross-functionality and antagonism to hard skills, the enormous literature on CCFOs still finds it difficult to come to a consensus on a definition of CCFOs fifty years later.

Bello and Kostova (2012:540) argue that researchers should focus much more on giving clear definitions for the concepts relevant to their research because vague or underdeveloped definitions can result in major issues like inaccurately formulating theory, an increased risk of truism, and insufficient parameters.

Viviers (2016) defined the following CCFOs: twelve CCFOs namely, ethics awareness, professionalism, teamwork, time management, leadership, influencing others, verbal communication, listening communication, written communication, problem-solving, strategic thinking, and critical thinking. Balaji and Somashekar (2009), identified CCFOs as: leadership, teamwork, interpersonal skills, problem solving capacity, creativity/innovation, written communication skills, oral communication skills, flexibility, presentation skills, continuous learning capacity, futuristic thinking, decision making capacity, self-management skills, and listening skills. Students must learn specific abilities necessary for the 4IR while they are in HE, including critical thinking, cooperation, communication, and creativity (Rodny-Gumede, 2019).

SAQA (1995) formulated CCFOs as follows: problem-solving, teamwork, self-management, critical thinking, effective communication, use science and technology effectively, and demonstrate an understanding of the world as a set of related systems.

As mentioned earlier SAICA oversees regulating and standardizing the criteria that applicants must meet in order to receive the (CA[SA]) accreditation. In SAICA’s (2021) CA2025 competency framework they describe the following competencies a student must have to get accreditation: a) professional values and attitudes namely ethics values and attitudes, citizenship attitudes and values, and lifelong learning attitudes and values b) enabling competencies namely business acumen, decision making acumen, relational acumen and digital acumen.

The researcher considers Viviers’s (2016) perspective in this research because it also considers the CCFOs as suggested by SAQA. Although CA2025 is not considered as it only came into effect on 1 January 2022, and not much research has been done on it, it imbeds all the CCFOs as required by SAQA and SAICA. This new framework is only more comprehensive regarding competencies as the previous one.

According to the literature CCFOs are classified as either personal or interpersonal CCFOs (Holmberg-Wright & Hribar, 2016; Dell’Aquila et al., 2017; Khasanzyanova, 2017; Vasanthakumari, 2019).

Personal CCFOs

According to the literature, personal CCFOs refer to a set of personal attributes and qualities that enable individuals to effectively interact with others in both professional and personal settings. These skills are often innate or developed through life experiences and are not typically related to technical or job-specific abilities. Viviers (2016) provides the following examples of personal CCFOs: thinking and behaving ethically, time management, problem-solving, adaptability, acting strategically, thinking and acting independently, being focused on outcomes, tolerating ambiguity, thinking creatively and innovatively, managing oneself in situations of challenge, managing oneself in situations of stress, managing oneself in situations of conflict, leadership, managing oneself in situations of change, leadership, and communication.

Chaibate et al. (2019) describe personal skills as mobility, rigor and efficiency, initiative and reactivity, autonomy and decision making, organization, problem resolution, and adaptability. Singh Dubey et al. (2022) identified the following personal CCFOs: readiness to face challenges, inquisitiveness, attention to details, result orientation, ability to cope with setbacks, diligence/methodical approach, coping with stress, ability to work under pressure, ability to apply knowledge, responsibility, customer orientation, professionalism in work, proactive critical thinking ability, ethics/honesty in working, leadership skills, self-motivation, active listening to others, problem-solving aptitude, flexibility in working with others, effective non-verbal communication skills, ability to make decisions, and good command of verbal communication.

These skills are essential for building and maintaining strong relationships, fostering a positive work environment, and achieving personal and professional success. These CCFOs aid in individual learning and personal development.

Interpersonal CCFOs

Interpersonal CCFOs refer to a set of personal qualities and behaviors that enable individuals to interact effectively with others in a variety of social and professional situations. These skills involve the ability to communicate, collaborate, and build positive relationships with others. Viviers (2016) lists the following interpersonal CCFOs: effective listening, presenting, discussing and defending views, transferring and receiving knowledge, negotiating with people from different backgrounds and value systems, understanding group dynamics, collaborating with colleagues, communicating in written format, empathy, oral communication, and motivation.

Holmberg-Wright and Hribar (2016) explain that interpersonal CCFOs are employed when interacting with one another, when managers help employees become leaders, inspire workers to do better work, utilize people’s potential more effectively, and deal with clients. They define interpersonal skills as communication and negotiation, teamwork, functioning in a multidisciplinary team, writing skills, managerial skills, and project management. Singh Dubey et al. (2022) define interpersonal skills as a pleasing/charismatic personality, ability to persuade/negotiate, effective presentation skills, accepting compliments in a polite way, giving feedback in a constructive manner, ability to tackle unpleasant situations, empathetic sharing of others’ feelings, teamwork etiquette, asking for assistance when required, learning ability/willingness to learn, respect for people, discipline, enterprising skills, entrepreneurship, being creative, innovative, able to work independently, competency in locating vital information, organizational skills, good writing skills, cultural awareness, multitasking, having a good social network, and punctuality/time management.

Interpersonal CCFOs are essential in both personal and professional settings and can help individuals build stronger relationships, increase productivity, and achieve success in their careers.

Graduate employability

The ability of a graduate to find and keep a job that makes use of the information, skills, and talents acquired throughout their degree program is referred to as graduate employability. For HE institutions, governments, and companies looking to close the skills gap and boost economic performance, it is a crucial issue. Tran et al, (2022) comment that graduate employability has been a marketing tactic used by several HE institutions to entice prospective students.

Tran (2019) states that it is crucial to investigate how HE updates the curriculum to generate graduates who are ready for the workplace’s increasing expectations. Tran et al, (2022) mention that several initiatives and some progresses have reportedly been made over time to improve the curriculum’s relevance and responsiveness to the demands of the modern labour market. Le and Hayden (2017) report that curriculum reforms and innovation are hampered by underqualified and/or overburdened lecturers, traditional teaching and learning methods, poor infrastructure, outdated, impractical, and irrelevant curricula, limited capabilities and perceptions of graduating students, and the low involvement of industry in curriculum design and delivery.

Universities are seen as HE institutions that produce graduates with the talents that companies want. Clarke (2018) states that besides graduate skills and qualities, several other factors that are unrelated to the HE processes affect graduates’ employment. Tan and Laswad (2018) believe that existing CCFOs and the character of HE institutions promote the achievement of graduates at work. According to Tsiligiris and Bowyer (2021) the two elements that make up graduate employability are social capital and human capital. Succi and Canovi (2019) state that social capital interacts with human capital to significantly influence graduates’ employment, taking the shape of social groups, personal connections, and HE character.

Clarke (2018) refers to the human capital component of graduate employability as the skills, abilities, and job experience of graduates. According to Caballero et al. (2020) human capital of HE students is formed by the knowledge and the skills acquired through HE education, as they normally do not yet have work experience.

Mason et al. 2009 state that for graduates, businesses, and the larger economy, graduate employability is crucial. To boost their employability, graduates need to have the necessary knowledge and CCFOs, and a clear career strategy. Thorough curriculum design, industry partnerships and HE institutions can help graduates improve their employability (Mason et al., 2009).

Despite the expanded employability dimensions, CCFOs continue to be the primary student indicator of employability (Jackson & Bridgstock, 2020). Novice practitioners who possess a good deal of CCFOS are more advantageous to the company, making them more sought-after hires (Jackson & Bridgstock, 2018).

Accounting education

According to Littleton (1942), the purpose of accounting education is to educate students for a career in accounting by teaching them how to function in a specific role. Accountancy education is described in NWU academic yearbooks as an all-encompassing notion that does not concentrate on accounting alone but rather is a language of business that incorporates numerous business courses. Evans and Paisey (2018) explain that companies demand graduates with technical capabilities as well as other graduate skills, including communication, time management, critical analysis and evaluation, and emotional and social skills.

Business faculties are under pressure, according to De Villiers (2010), to provide accounting graduates with the orientation, attitudes, qualities, and CCFOs they require. According to Berry and Routon (2020), the debate over the CCFOs needed by accountants is not wholly new; academics have long argued that in order to sustain a sustainable profession, accountants need to properly deploy critical abilities.

As a result of the 4IR, numerous HEIs are actively updating their curricula to better educate students for the new job description for accountants (Thomson Reuters, 2019).

The 4IR and its impact on the accounting profession

Rudman and Sexton (2017) state that the 4IR will place more of an emphasis on CCFOs to boost the company’s success and continuously strengthen any area of the specialized skills of the accountants. Burrows (2017) contends that the 4IR will undoubtedly have a considerable impact on the training of certified accountants.

Marx et al, (2020) comment that the accountancy professional bodies are fully conscious of the need to adapt in order to stay pertinent. As the organizations in charge of fostering the professional competence of accountants, they have started posing important questions to address the projected changes brought on by the 4IR. The skill profile of accountants is expected to change, which will have an impact on the HE system’s ability to produce accountants for the future of the economy (Jarosz et al., 2020).

Gaviria et al, (2022) remark that it is up to society to maintain an ethical and human position in the face of new changes due to the 4IR, forcing organizations to accept these changes. They further state that corporate ethics cannot be replaced by technology. Olarewaju (2021) observes that even though technological advancements are replacing accounting jobs, there is a growing demand for qualified and high-quality accountants. In order to sustain the profession’s relevance in the years to come, the impact of the 4IR will need to be considered when educating the next generation of professional accountants (Craig, 2015).

IT expertise, understanding of programming, and the ability to solve problems and offer guidance on broad plans are the qualities that employers most value in accounting graduates (Richardson, 2020). According to Burritt and Christ (2016), the credibility and utility of reporting are key factors in the future of accounting.

The importance of CCFOs on future accountants

Employers believe that accounting graduates lack CCFOs but possess the necessary technical accounting skills (Low et al., 2016). Burrows (2017) believes the success of accounting careers is now seen as being influenced by the CCFOs, which also help satisfy the demands and standards of newly certified professionals.

Tsiligiris and Bowyer (2021) comment that although businesses still expect accounting graduates to gain these CCFOs on the job, they nevertheless require graduates to have a basic comprehension of core accounting concepts.

Low et al. (2016) contest that employers are placing greater importance on graduates’ CCFOs such as interpersonal and communication abilities, as well as their capacity to integrate into and adjust to the organizational culture of the company. Tempone et al. (2012) state that interpersonal, problem-solving, time-management, and collaborative skills are cited by employers as significant contributions to hiring, maintaining employment, and promoting accounting graduates.

Relevant technical and CCFOs suited for the 4IR employment were listed by Kruskopf et al. (2020). According to them technical skills involve the ability to analyze, comprehend, and have a sufficient understanding of the capabilities of software and data security. They see CCFOs as emotional intelligence, understanding of sales, adaptability, customer service orientation, communication, dispute resolution, leadership, risk management, creativity, and strategic decision-making. These skills will assist graduates in developing their expertise as providers of financial information that can add value to the organization (Kruskopf et al., 2020).

According to a review of job advertisements for accounting positions, Tsiligiris and Bowyer (2021) find that employers place a higher priority on CCFOs than technical skills. According to Dunbar et al. (2016) the CCFOs that are mentioned the most in job adverts for accountants are interpersonal skills, teamwork, and communication. Tan & Laswad (2018) mention that most job advertisements show that a mix of skills is required of accountants. Tsiligiris and Bowyer (2021) conclude that the industry expects accounting graduates to exhibit crucial CCFOs, which are in high demand.

The contribution of HE to the development of CCFOs

Karsten et al. (2020) believe that technology advancements and the fast-paced changes in the accounting industry are prompting HE practitioners to reevaluate and develop methods for their instructional approaches. This is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly because the main goal of HE is to help students obtain a respectable degree and acquire the information and skills they need to start working in their chosen fields.

Collins (1971), as cited in Yang and Cheng (2018) claims that from a functionalist viewpoint education imparts the abilities and characteristics that citizens are required to possess. According to Karsten et al. (2020) students in the HE’s setting will be able to develop explorative, creative, and adaptable approaches to problem-solving in the future if they acquire a growth mindset through targeted project-based or problem-based learning.

Gleason (2018a) suggests that institutions of HE should shift their emphasis from relying solely on knowledge transfer to creating workers and thinkers who can fulfil the needs of the modern workplace, as technology has caused significant economic shifts. Karsten et al. (2020) note that the support given by HE institutions directly affects how students are provided with opportunities and nurtured to develop their latent specialized CCFOs in accounting.

Theoretical basis

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) revolves around understanding the motivations driving human behaviour. Developed by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan in the 1980s, the theory has been extensively explored and applied by researchers and practitioners across different fields, including education. SDT’s primary objective is to identify the factors that contribute to optimal human development (Ryan & Deci, 2017). According to Ryan and Deci (2020), SDT emphasizes the significance of meeting students’ basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Autonomy involves individuals’ inherent need for control over their lives and the choices they make. In the context of SDT, autonomy signifies the longing to work independently and craft one’s own plans (Baek, 2022). Vansteenkiste and Soenens (2015) further explain autonomy as the desire for psychological independence, allowing individuals to make independent decisions while carrying out tasks. In the context of fostering CCFOs, autonomy plays a vital role in taking charge of one’s learning and personal growth.

Competence pertains to the innate need for individuals to feel capable and effective in their endeavours. It involves a strong desire for success and mastery in their pursuits (Baek, 2022). According to Vansteenkiste and Soenens (2015), competence encompasses the aspiration to have an impact on events and acquire the necessary skills to interact successfully with their environment.

Relatedness involves the longing for a sense of belonging and connection with others (Baek, 2022). SDT suggests that when students perceive autonomy in their education, they are more likely to be actively engaged in their studies (Ryan & Deci, 2020). Additionally, when individuals feel connected to others and experience fulfilling social bonds, they are more inclined to utilize their CCFOs to establish and nurture relationships (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).

In a study conducted by Van den Broeck et al. (2010), it was observed that students demonstrated a higher inclination to engage actively in the learning process when they received feedback that emphasized their progress rather than solely focusing on their mistakes. This particular approach to feedback was found to boost their feelings of competence and motivation, subsequently encouraging them to further enhance and develop their skills.

Research methodology

1.1 Rationale

The 4IR is accelerating rapid technology developments, transforming sectors, and altering job expectations. These changes need a thorough understanding and implementation of CCFOs within the accounting profession. While 4IR brings potential, it also poses obstacles to accounting’s future in terms of required skills and training approaches. Understanding the key CCFOs for the 4IR era becomes critical as South Africa’s HE institutions play a pivotal role in preparing the next generation of accountants. This SLR is based on this assumption, with the goal of bridging the knowledge gap between the evolving demands of the 4IR and accounting students’ preparation in South Africa’s HE scene.

1.2 Objectives

The primary goal of this SLR is to address the research question: “What are the essential CCFOs that students require to thrive in the 4IR, and how can these skills be incorporated into the accounting curriculum at HE institutions in South Africa using SDT?” The researcher hopes to comprehend the breadth and depth of existing literature on this topic, identify gaps, and give actionable recommendations for educators, politicians, and institutions through this study.

1.3 Methods

1.3.1 Literature Search and Selection Process

To provide a comprehensive, transparent, and replicable approach, this systematic review was carried out in accordance with the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) 2020 guidelines.

1.3.2 Protocol and Registration

This review’s protocol was pre-defined before the start of the search, however it was not registered with any systematic review database.

1.3.3 Eligibility Criteria Inclusion Criteria
  • Articles written in the English language.

  • Content related to the specified keywords: 4IR, CCFOs (and its synonyms), accounting education, HE institutions, and South Africa. Exclusion Criteria
  • Literature that did not adhere to the above-mentioned inclusion criteria.

1.3.4 Data Sources and Search Strategies

A systematic search of academic databases was done, including Google Scholar, Ebsco Host, Emerald, Eric, Elsevier, Taylor and Francis, Frontiers, Sabinet, Springer, ScieElo and Sage journals. The time frame was limited to publications from 2018 to 2023. Search terms were combined with Boolean operators. The search terms: “Fourth Industrial Revolution* AND”, “CCFOs development (and its synonyms)* AND”, “accounting students* AND”, “employability* AND”, “accounting graduates* AND”, “higher education institutions* AND”, “South Africa” were used as keywords for the topic, article title, and abstract. The reference lists of the eligible articles included after the electronic search were also manually searched.

1.3.5 Study Selection

Records were de-duplicated after the initial search. After screening the titles and abstracts against the eligibility criteria, relevant articles were evaluated in full text for ultimate inclusion. To address the specific research question, all papers were excluded if keywords were missing. The reasons for exclusion at the full-text level were meticulously documented.

1.3.6 Results

Table 1: PRISMA 2020 flow diagram

From: Page MJ, McKenzie JE, Bossuyt PM, Boutron I, Hoffmann TC, Mulrow CD, et al. The PRISMA 2020 statement: an updated guideline for reporting systematic reviews. BMJ 2021;372:n71. doi: 10.1136/bmj.n71

Following the initial search and deduplication, a total of 99 articles were screened based on their title and abstract. Of these, 80 were excluded as they were deemed not relevant. A further 19 articles were assessed in full text, with 9 being excluded for various reasons.

Reasons for exclusion
  • Reason 1: 1 articles could not be accessed (Beraza, 2018)

  • Reason 2: 4 outside South Africa (Winterton & Turner, 2019; Tan et al., 2021; Mainga et al., 2022)

  • Reason 3: 1 article relevant to employers and not HE institutions (Ismail et al., 2020)

  • Reason 4: 1 article not related to 4IR (Aliu & Aigbavboa, 2023)

  • Reason 5: 2 articles not related to accounting (Pitan & Muller, 2020; Sutherland, 2020)

Table 2: Summary of exclusion results

Search results

Exclusion from the current study




Emerald, ERIC, Google scholar, Taylor & Francis

Book chapters


Google scholar




After presenting the number of research reports utilised in this study, the researcher then categorized the reviewed studies in Table 2 below, highlighting the authors, title, CCFOs researched and key findings of each article. The aim was to enable the researcher to identify key CCFOs that address the study’s research objectives. Thereafter, a discussion of the CCFOs related to the research problem and objectives will be provided.

Table 2: Categorisation of reviewed studies



CCFOs researched

Key findings


Jansen, Williams and Latief


The Motives, Expectations and Preparedness of Learners Embarking on an Undergraduate Accounting Degree in South Africa.

Time management

1) Students did not indicate any problems with time management.


Karsten, Steenekamp, and Van der Merwe


Empowering accounting students to enhance the self-determination skills demanded by the fourth industrial revolution.

Time management, communication, critical thinking, problem solving,

1) Even after intervention, students were still having trouble managing their time efficiently. Most students were unable to provide timetables when asked, frequently arrived late for lectures, and frequently submitted assignments after the deadline had passed.

2) Intervention was conducted for communication, and positive feedback was received from students. However, the students requested more interventions.

3) Challenges identified for students included critical thinking and confidently presenting workable solutions to problems.


Landsberg and van den Berg


4th Industrial Revolution skills in the current South African accountancy curricula: A systematic literature review.

Critical thinking, problem solving, professionalism (scepticism), written communication, listening communication, leadership, ethics awareness, influencing others, teamwork,

1) Critical thinking skills were lacking in all HE modules, as they lacked the ability to challenge assumptions.

2) Problem solving received less attention in favour of developing technical skills.

3) Professional scepticism was not evident in the HE modules.

4) Written communication skills were present in 80% of the HE.

5) Listening communication skills were present in 60% of HE.

5) Leadership was not addressed by HE.

6) Moral and ethical decision-making were covered in all HE.

7)  Influence and negotiation dimensions were not covered at all.

8) Team work had low inclusion in HE.

Taylor & Francis

Mabe, and Bwalya


Key performance areas and indicators perceived to be critical for Information Science roles in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Teamwork, leadership, verbal and written communication

1) Respondents agreed on the importance of working in teams and the significance of leadership for business well-being.

2) Respondents acknowledged that communication is essential for knowledge sharing.


Malan, and van Dyk


Students’ experience of pervasive skills acquired through sponsored projects in an undergraduate accounting degree

Critical thinking, problem solving, ethics awareness, verbal, written, and communication skills, team work.

Projects involving students had a positive reaction, although a few respondents expressed negativity, stating that not much can be learned from one-time projects.

Taylor & Francis

Marx, Mohammadali-Haji, and Lansdell


University accounting programmes and the development of Industry 4.0 soft skills

Leadership, professionalism, verbal communication, teamwork, influence others, time management, writing and listening communication, problem-solving, strategic thinking, critical thinking.

Evidence was provided that accounting modules develop 4IR CCFOs to some extent, but the extent to which these skills should be developed further remains open.


Mbodila, Mbodila, and Legg-Jack


Tracing Factors that Influence Students’ Success in Open Distance Learning at South African Higher Education Institutions

Time management

Time management remains a challenge.

Google Scholar

Mhlongo, (2022)

The role of pervasive skills in the academic and professional preparation of accounting students in the University of KwaZulu-Natal

Communication skills: writing, listening, and verbal, critical thinking, problem solving

1) Employers reported poor communication skills among students, especially for those whose first language is not English.

2) Concerns about students lacking critical thinking abilities motivated interventions, as some accounting students may be struggling academically.

3) Several accounting programs in South Africa still rely on completely guided instruction rather than problem-based teaching.


Ramraj, and Marimuthu (2021)

Preparing Undergraduate Learners with Skills Required by a Transformative Work Environment

Teamwork, communication, problem solving

1) Students felt they have been equipped with the necessary skills to succeed in jobs.

2) However, problem-solving techniques are lacking in the context of the 4IR.


Terblanche, and De Clercq


A critical thinking competency framework for accounting students

Critical thinking, ethics awareness, communication, problem solving

Universities face challenges in adapting their current programs to incorporate a variety of skills.



The SLR identified a crucial gap in the existing research about the 4IR and its implications for accounting students’ CCFO development in the South African HE system. Despite the discovery of ten relevant papers that deconstruct this link, an obvious misalignment exists between the CCFOs as defined by the SAQA, SAICA, and Viviers (2016) and those investigated in the research.

In essence, most studies placed undue emphasis on a very narrow range of abilities, inadvertently sidelining the whole suite of specialized proficiencies regarded essential in modern accounting operations.

Findings consistently pointed to a substantial relationship between 4IR and the evolutionary trajectory of CCFOs among accounting students. More importantly, there is an increasing demand in the market for accountants who have 4IR-aligned CCFOs. However, a detectable bias toward technical proficiency creates doubt as to this trend.

This conundrum has been highlighted by more than just researchers. Accounting professionals, companies, and SAICA are all vocal advocates for curricular changes that fit more closely with the desired CCFOs for emerging professionals. Indeed, the current narrative highlights a noticeable gap: students are found wanting in CCFOs, which are highly valued in the corporate world.

Addressing this gulf requires a multifaceted approach involving not only HE institutions, but also professional bodies and government authorities. Institutions can bridge the scholastic-professional divide by incorporating courses emphasizing CCFO development and employing experiential pedagogies. Such curriculum enhancement should emphasize, among other things, analytical ability, ethical foundation, teamwork, time management, leadership, problem-solving abilities, and effective communication.

Landsberg and van den Berg (2023) and Karsten et al. (2020) add to this discussion by highlighting project-based pedagogies that develop critical thinking and the importance of interactions with a diverse set of stakeholders for informed decision-making. Furthermore, they enhance the environment – both internal and external – in which these skills are developed. In this discourse, the SDT emerges as a cornerstone, providing a complex tapestry of motivational constructs reinforced by social and contextual variables.

Agolla (2018) and Cinque (2016) broaden the conversation to include the broader 4IR milieu, pushing for educational reforms that go beyond traditional curricula. In a world characterized by cross-cultural synergy, globalization, and the importance of keeping top talent, a larger and more culturally sophisticated skill set is not just desirable, but also necessary.


As 4IR sweeps across businesses and professions, HE institutions, regulatory organizations, and the government must all rethink their strategy. A multidimensional, collaborative strategy is required to ensure that accounting students in South Africa are not just technically proficient but also culturally competent and future ready.

The 4IR has undeniably changed the accounting profession, mandating an emphasis on the development of CCFOs in addition to technical skills. Accounting programs at South African higher education institutions must adapt to changing industry demands. Institutions can better prepare future accountants to flourish in the 4IR era by encouraging the development of communication, critical thinking, leadership, and a variety of other abilities among accounting students. Bridging the gap between academia and industry will be critical for ensuring the successful transfer of accounting students into the workforce, as well as supporting the growth and sustainability of the accounting profession in the 4IR era. The proposed changes aim to strengthen accounting students’ competence, autonomy, and relatedness, allowing them to successfully traverse the complexities and opportunities presented by the 4IR.

This research provides an in-depth examination of the impact of the 4IR on the formation of CCFOs among accounting students in South African higher education institutions. It emphasizes the relevance of motivation, autonomy, and relatedness in encouraging students’ CCFO growth by using SDT ideas. The research reveals the various CCFOs that are in high demand for accountants in the 4IR period, emphasizing their significance for graduate employment. Accounting courses at HEIs must be updated to meet the changing needs of the industry. The report makes recommendations for HEIs to rethink their courses, with an emphasis on increasing students’ competence, autonomy, and relatedness. These changes are intended to better prepare accounting students to handle the 4IR’s problems and possibilities, ultimately preparing them for successful careers in the growing accounting profession.


The main limitation of this study was the limited number of articles analyzed. Therefore, future research should extend the analysis and integrate these conclusions into a more exhaustive study to provide an in-depth understanding of the impact of the 4IR on the CCFOs development of accounting students in HE institutions in South Africa. Furthermore, future studies should empirically investigate accountants’ perceptions of the CCFOs in their jobs. This might shed some light on their attitudes towards these new CCFOs, as it was revealed in this study that they might be reluctant to adopt new ways of doing things.

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