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Thwe challenges of parental career advice | AccountingWEB Jake Smith | picture of an accountant in boxing gloves

The challenges of offering parental career advice


What career would you choose for your younger self, or your children if you had them? That was the topic of conversation at a recent AccountingWEB editorial meeting.

4th Jul 2024
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The conversation was sparked by the recent Desert Island Discs show with two-time former unified world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.

Speaking to host Lauren Laverne, Joshua claimed that he wouldn’t want his son to follow in his steps and become a boxer, instead saying: "If I was to choose [a career] for him, I would ask him to probably look at accountancy because I think it’s good to understand numbers."

Tough for young adults

Our community editor Molly MacFarlane put the same question to the Any Answers community and the general consensus of replies was that it was probably better to avoid the noble art of boxing and go for the noble profession of accountancy that allowed a degree of flexibility and longevity, as well as more certain financial rewards.

With our eldest child recently having finished their A levels and planning to go to university in September, and our youngest halfway through GCSEs, we’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to help our kids consider their options.

It’s tough for young adults - faced with so many choices that have to be made at a time when many of them simply have no idea of the range of roles that are available to them in their future careers.

Unless someone has a particularly strong calling at an early age, perhaps to be a doctor, lawyer or some other profession with a clear route to entry, it can be difficult to offer career advice as a parent. Aside from the bias that most parents have to believe their offspring to be the best at everything, there is also the added challenge that kids often don’t want to take advice from a parent.

We decided that the best advice we could offer our kids was to choose the subjects that they loved and were good at, while trying to leave as many options open to them as possible. The obvious problem with this advice can often be that many kids don’t really love any subjects (they are teenagers after all), or that they want to be something incredibly difficult to achieve, such as an astronaut, movie star or, as I attempted for many years, a musician.

Parental advice is a tricky balance

So, would I want my children to become accountants? There are lots of good reasons why I’d say yes.

Getting a professional qualification would be good, while the financial skills you learn are very transferable and useful. The skills crunch we’ve seen over the past few years suggests accountants and bookkeepers seem to still be in demand, and aside from the fear of AI taking over, the role seems to have a secure future.

This is in stark contrast to the challenges I faced in trying to make a living from music, where opportunities for most to earn money are limited to very few who're lucky and (usually) talented. Things are getting worse thanks to services like Spotify that commoditise art and then have the CEO Daniel Elk dismiss creators, saying that the cost of creating content is “close to zero”.

Any accountant looking at the profit and loss calculations for my decades in music would shake their heads sadly and put a consoling arm around my shoulder. However, I did love trying to make it and still enjoy nothing more than making music with friends and attending gigs.

So although it hasn’t been financially successful, the skills I picked up trying to “make it” have been useful throughout my parallel career in finance and media. And that’s part of the challenge. I loved what I was trying to do and it never felt like work, I just couldn’t find a way to earn enough.

Would I dissuade anyone from trying to do it? No, but I would warn them to go into it with their eyes open!

In terms of a rewarding and fulfilling career, it seems that accountancy or finance can offer both. Salary information reported in AccountingWEB a few years ago suggests that roles can be well paid.

In the latest CCAB report from January 2024, CCAB Chair Julia Penny said: “The accountancy profession is needed now perhaps more than any time in modern history," before going on to highlight the important contribution that the profession made in helping businesses navigate the increasingly challenging modern world.

Working with a variety of clients (if in practice) can be interesting, or working for large multinational businesses in business can offer variety with opportunities for travel, while traditionally a financial background offers a good route to success in the corporate world.

However, the benefits of a career in audit can be difficult to sell to many teenagers.

Let them be their own person

Joshua, talking about offering advice to his son, said that he’d want him to ‘carve out his own future’ and to "do the best you can do", when advising him about what he wanted to be when he was older. 

Fairly vague then, but it’s an important point. If you love your work, hopefully, it never feels like work. But when you’re young it’s hard to know what you might love and not many people make a living from lying in bed and only getting up to play computer games; that seems to be all the rage amongst many of the 18-year-olds I know of!

A profession like accountancy has numerous ways in, including funded degree schemes and apprenticeships that can see people get qualifications without racking up as much student debt. I did try to suggest some of these to my eldest, but couldn’t seem to persuade them that the ones we looked at from the Big Four would be interesting enough.

It seems in our case that the lure of tech or fund management after a degree is more appealing to an aspirational teenager, but it seems that the Bank of Mum and Dad may have to pay for the degree in the meantime! As a profession maybe we need to be working harder to show the wider benefits and range of opportunities available to the next generation.

So, accountancy or boxing? Well, for me it would definitely be accountancy. But as the movie Fight Club showed maybe there's no need to choose.

Perhaps I’ll leave the final word to regular Any Answers commenter I'msorryIhaven'taclue – who said: "Auditing offers ticking and bashing!"

Replies (3)

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By FactChecker
04th Jul 2024 16:52

"With our eldest child recently having finished their A levels and planning to go to university in September, and our youngest halfway through GCSEs, we’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to help our kids consider their options."

Have things really changed so much this century that this approach is welcomed by your kids?
I've always had a great relationship with my two 'boys' (now 35 and 38), but always understood that unsolicited advice/guidance would be unwelcome (ignored at best and potentially directly counter-productive at worst) ... it's not that hard to remember back 30 odd years to when you were in their shoes!

Of course it's different if/when they approach you (with a determinedly laidback opening of 'I was just wondering if ..') - but even then I always encouraged independent thinking (as in 'well in my experience you could ... but you might also want to consider researching x and y').

To be clear, I'm not saying it's always easy for the parent to stick by this approach.
I recall being mortified (on behalf of the relevant son not myself) when he absolutely refused all my suggestions for his UCAS application (such as 'mention your mixed heritage and that your old man never went to university'). He called that manipulative and beneath him - and, without any direct correlation, has been proved right as he sails on through academe to his current role as a Professor.

I guess all I'm saying (or asking) is whether people believe that helping/encouraging a child towards *your* preferred route is even desirable, let alone achievable?

BTW if you're looking for movies as a point of reference, I always commend The Producers (1967 version) to any teenager who has expressed interest in becoming an Accountant!

Thanks (1)
Replying to FactChecker:
Jake Smith, AccountingWEB
By Jake Smith
05th Jul 2024 14:42

I do love the Producers, it's a great film.

I answer to your question, it's in response to requests or dinner table discussions rather than being forced on them! We try to talk about anything they want, but you're right trying to get them to be independent is important...

Thanks (1)
Replying to Jake Smith:
By FactChecker
05th Jul 2024 17:06

It's not just the jokes (although they are near perfect) ... it even includes salutary advice that I took to heart back in 1967 ...
Max: The two cardinal rules of producing are one: Never put your own money in the show.
Leo: And two?
Max: [yelling] Never put your own money in the show!

And my comments about parenting style weren't directed AT you ... more an honest interest as to whether social culture in that area has changed since it was last relevant to me? I find kids still at school worryingly interested in careers and planning a future ... which makes sense for a business but seems to me to get in the way of learning from their mistakes (and having a good time) whilst a teen.

Whether that's changed - and, if so, whether that's a good thing - is probably up there with all the other imponderables that worry parents (like 'is there such a thing as too much screen time?' or 'shouldn't they learn to struggle before I bail them out?' and many more)!

Thanks (1)