By Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK
Ask the question ‘what do you want to be when you are older?’ to a group of 12 year olds and you will get a variety of answers from premiership footballer to X-Factor winner, to more familiar careers like teacher. Having those dreams at that age is important, it’s good for children to strive to be famous or rich or to enter a career that helps others. In reality only a very tiny proportion of those that answer premiership footballer will have a career in sport. An even smaller number will be lucky enough to have a career in the music industry. A much larger number will end up in one of the many professions that are vital to the global economy, but how many of those 12 year olds that you ask will mention one of those professions – very few.
There are a couple of good reasons for this. Firstly, many of the professions are not considered aspirational – very few aspire to be an accountant, a banker, an HR manager. However, if you phrased the question differently you might get a different response. If you asked: ‘When you are older would like to work for Facebook, for Apple, for Manchester United, for Universal Records, for an organisation that has offices in New York, Sydney, Singapore and London?’ It would be expected that the number putting their hands up would increase significantly.
The second reason is that young people are often not aware of the vast range of professions out there, and even if they are, have little idea whether they can gain access to that type of career. Social mobility is a buzzword of the moment, but it’s critical that if we want to make sure young talent comes into the professions, we have to ensure they are aware of the opportunities.
While a career in the professions may not be aspirational it is highly rewarding, secure and challenging. During the recent financial crisis most finance professionals, especially accountants, not only remained in employment and received pay rises but also became more and more vital to their organisations. They are now playing a major role in forward planning and business strategy, not just tax returns and audit.
Professions are hugely important to the health of the economy: they keep businesses running, employing staff, paying tax and keeping GDP ticking over. So while being a professional might initially not seem an exciting role, the reality is that you will be at the forefront of your company, your decisions will carry weight right up to boardroom level and you will have the respect of the people who shape the company.
ACCA is one of the founding members of the UK’s first ever Professions Week, and I am the chair of the initiative’s steering group. Starting next week, it aims to raise awareness of what potential career and employment opportunities there are. Get more information via the Twitterfeed too.