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A diverse workforce will help accountancy thrive | accountingweb
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A diverse workforce will help accountancy thrive

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Improved access to the accountancy profession is welcome, but there is more to do, says Hazel Garvey, the new chair of Access Accountancy.

15th Dec 2022
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As a charity, Access Accountancy’s focus is to look at the way the accountancy profession attracts a more representative and diverse workforce. This includes those from a lower socio-economic background who, overwhelming evidence has found, are less likely to be hired. 

We have recently published an annual report by the Bridge Group, including an analysis of 700 students who have engaged in work experience at accountancy firms. The majority of these students (91%) attended a state school or college and were either eligible for free school meals, attending a school with above average numbers of students receiving free school meals, or were the first generation in their immediate family to attend university.

This report is part of our work with the Bridge Group, now in its seventh year, exploring the impact of work experience and entry-level hiring on socio-economic diversity in the profession.

Positive message

Encouragingly, the Bridge Group report found that following the work experience placements, awareness of accountancy careers more than doubled to 93% (Sep 2020 to Aug 2021), at a time when most work experience placements were virtual as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The report also finds the percentage of black students/respondents tripled to 24%, which sends a clear and positive message about the diversity of those interested in the profession. 

It’s great news that the report highlights these important trends, backed by anecdotal evidence of a more diverse and wider range of students who choose a work placement in accountancy, and feel positive about it as a career path. 

More work to be done

While this is a big step forward, it’s clear that more work still needs to be done. The UK ranks 21st on a global social mobility index, well behind most European countries, and it is thought that low social mobility will cost the UK economy £140bn a year until 2050, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Social Mobility Index. The economic cost makes doing nothing not an option.

Against these difficulties and the backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis, energy price hikes and the potential for social discontent on the horizon, it remains imperative that candidates are given the opportunity to find out if accountancy is for them. 

Businesses have their own set of challenges. A recent Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) survey found they face challenges from the cost of doing business while recruitment issues abound, and these are not just confined to the accountancy sector. With the over 50s – the most experienced candidates across all job roles – becoming more economically inactive than ever, according to recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) statistics, there is a clear case for ensuring the employment net is cast as widely as possible

Insider’s view

I very much welcome the news that more students from lower socio-economic backgrounds have the chance of undertaking a work placement in the profession. This gives them an insider’s view into working in a professional accountancy environment, and the chance to better understand the boundless career opportunities that exist both now and in the future. 

I know from personal experience, as someone who decided not to go down the university route, that a training position within a small firm is a fantastic opportunity.

Students must be given the chance to consider a wide range of options. Firms of all shapes and sizes have plenty of different roles on offer that are not just confined to a specific industry sector.

Privileged position

We accountants are in a privileged position. Not only do we work across a variety of different sectors and roles, but we have a vital role to play in advising and providing input into how businesses should be run. So, ensuring a diverse workforce helps the profession to evolve and move forward, and it also gives a more accurate reflection of the society we live in, and clients we work with.

It’s the job of the profession and Access Accountancy to ensure that the brightest and best talent, no matter what their socio-economic background is, have the chance to take up a work placement, gain insight into the profession and kick-start their accountancy career. 

It’s all our responsibility to keep banging this drum and to see a continual increase in the figures as contained within our recent report. We mustn’t rest on our laurels. By encouraging more organisations to come on board as signatories and working closer with the 26 signatories that we already have signed up we will continue to raise the profile of the profession to make this happen.

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