By Andrew Leck, head of ACCA UK
Picking up on a policy theme that was begun by the previous government, in the past year, the Coalition has devoted some of its attention to social mobility in the UK; or rather, the lack of it. April saw the launch of a new governmental Social Mobility Strategy.
This month, it’s the professions that have launched a new initiative, Professions for Good (P4G). P4G is a group of bodies with a membership of over 750,000 chartered professionals worldwide – that aims to raise awareness of the professions’ contribution to the UK’s society and economy. Raising awareness of the professions as an engine for social mobility is going to be a big part of this.
To a certain extent, the professions have a bit of a public perception problem to deal with, often being characterised as elitist or out-of-touch (‘grey, male, and pale’, was how one panellist described how the public saw professions).
David Johnston from the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) had the stats for this. According to pre-internship interviews with students, the SMF found that 76 per cent of students thought that not knowing the right people was a barrier to the professions. 48 per cent thought that not going to the right school was a barrier; 38 per cent said a lack of family connections was a barrier.
The perception though doesn’t tally with the reality, which is one of the things that P4G will need to tackle. Yes, the notion that the professions are staid and elitist may have been spot-on once (in fact, the elitism of the accountancy profession was the reason for ACCA’s founding in 1904) but the professions in the UK have come a long way since stereotypes were first formed.
The reality then is that the professions make up a significant chunk of the UK’s GDP while at the same time they provide great careers to talented people from all kinds of backgrounds (the link between social background and university access has repeatedly been noted by the Government; most professions have a mix of graduate/non-graduate entry routes). Besides, for global bodies like ACCA, the reality is that the professional skills and ethical approach adopted by our members worldwide is seen as a model which reflects well on our home base in the UK.
ACCA has long prided itself on the openness and accessibility of our qualification; there’s a roughly fifty-fifty split in our student body between those with degrees and those without (there’s a pretty equal gender split too), and we have a globally growing body of students and members. Regardless of our good work though, the discrepancy between perception and reality for professions in general remains. P4G is our opportunity to get out there with the rest of the professional bodies and make the case for the public value brought by the professions and tackle the misconceptions and misunderstanding.
We’re going to have to fight the perception of professions as only accessible through university or connections, and really build the professions as something to aspire to. We need to show a different reality: that professional bodies have help hundreds of thousands of professionals from many backgrounds pursue diverse, challenging, and rewarding careers.
The professions are a passport to success for young people regardless of their background and are an integral part of the UK economy and society. This is the reality, and this is the perception we want people to have as part of the public value we bring.