Archives For social mobility

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By Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK

For those of you who have not yet seen, ACCA UK has launched Who accounts for social mobility? This paper was based on a survey of our members and students. Firstly thank you to all of you who took the time to take part in the survey your feedback was very insightful and highlighted what diversity there is among both students and members, across geography, age, gender and background.

Open access is at the heart of what ACCA believes; an open society is a fair one. We conducted the survey to get a greater understanding of whether what we are doing to encourage this is working, and to get a clearer picture of what you think. From the results, and other research and initiatives we are involved in we believe the government and business is not doing enough to ensure that everyone can get to the top.

Last Monday the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission launched its annual State of the Nation Report which looks at the UK as a whole to see whether the government is doing enough to ensure it reaches its child poverty targets and that social mobility is improving. Unfortunately much like our report, the Commission found the government to be lacking; we do face losing a talented generation if we do not do more.

The government claims to be focused on an inclusive growth agenda, but studies demonstrate that western countries with low social mobility have lower economic growth. If both the government and the opposition do not begin to take social mobility more seriously, we will become a permanently divided nation. To start with we would like to see a commitment from all three of the political parties to end the abuse of unpaid internships and ensure that businesses are advertising them freely and fairly to all. We were concerned to see that 43% of those who took our survey said they were unpaid, it simply isn’t good enough and both government and business must end this practice.

Secondly we would like to see a commitment to more effective dissemination of careers advice through the education system. As our own social mobility research shows, very few accountants find their way into the profession via their school or university. Improving teachers’ and careers advisers’ understanding of accountancy would make a significant contribution to improving access to the field, thus increasing social mobility.

Ahead of the UK general election in May, we will be working with the government and the Commission to look at what we believe should be done and how we can contribute. We are going to be hosting several roundtable discussions in Scotland, England and Wales working with a whole host of organisations to look at what is required to make sure that no one feels there is a glass ceiling.

Do keep an eye out on Twitter, Linkedin and Google+, as well as here, where we will keep you updated on our progress.


SH  01

By Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK

The results of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission survey give cause for grave concern and demonstrate that not enough is being done to prevent Britain remaining an exclusive ‘club’ at the top of our society. Relative social mobility, the extent to which an individual’s chances depend on their parent’s class or income, seems to be shrinking.

This summer Thomas Picketty’s book Capital: in the 21st Century reignited a debate for western governments to address the issue of inequality. The book has ignited political discussion across Western Europe; Picketty’s central thesis is where the rate of return on capital outstrips economic growth, wealth inequality ineluctably rises. The impressive amount of data he uses to back up his thesis is why the book has received such acclaim. However despite the excitement which surrounded the book and a call for action, today’s survey results are a reminder that clearly concern about inequality and social mobility has not translated into action. Or that any action has taken effect?

In our recent submission to the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s State of the Nation report we called on an end to unpaid internships and a recent survey of our members showed us that not only do our members feel strongly on this issue but 76% of the 1,500 surveyed also felt their companies should pay the living wage. Social mobility cannot be viewed in isolation and the level of income inequality is an issue that all three of the parties should address. The report recognises that practical steps can be taken to prevent the drive towards improving social mobility settling into a pedestrian pace.

The commission has rightly called on government to collect data on its staff and lead by example and we hope the government will take note of this. ACCA is currently working to do the same; a founding feature of ACCA is accessibility and we continually review our policies to ensure that our qualification is open to everyone whatever their background.

Today’s results demonstrate that we cannot afford to soften and settle into a pedestrian pace, but the reality is that change is slow. Inter-generational mobility, as the name suggests, takes a lifetime to achieve. There is a need for practical solutions and we urge organisations of all sizes to adopt the Professions for Good Social Mobility Toolkit. The toolkit does not claim to be a silver bullet but is designed for organisations to be able to tailor it according to resource. Built from the ground up, the toolkit is fit for use by small employer organisations with no dedicated HR functions, with easy low-cost recommendations.

The SMCP Commission’s survey has done well to put further pressure on governments to act – public bodies must ensure they do too.

ACCA will be publishing a report on social mobility in the autumn.

SH  01

By Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK

Social mobility and access to the professions has been headline news following publication of the latest government report, recently, along with serious criticism of the careers advice offered to school pupils. The original idea for creating a Professions Week as a collective response to the challenges from professional bodies came over a year ago – 15 bodies came together to make this happen, and I was delighted to be chairing the group.

As Baroness Shephard said at the launch event at the House of Commons, it’s rare for professional bodies to collaborate in this way. So why bother? Between us the professional bodies involved have nearly a million members and students in the UK; ACCA alone has over 140,000. That’s a powerful army of professionals who can help spread the message to young people that a career as a professional is both attractive and accessible. Part of the aims of the week were to mobilise our members to do just that – go into schools, colleges and universities and talk about their career and experiences. I have met many ACCA members who have come through a non-traditional route into the profession, and they have stories that will be inspirational to young people making big decisions about their future. ACCA was founded on a principle of open access, and we still hold true to that value today – it’s a real differentiator for us.

One of the other aims of Professions Week was to make the government aware of the role professional bodies play in providing a link between schools and businesses, helping to get the right advice out there at the right time. ACCA delivers public value, it’s embedded in our qualifications, standards and ethics. Providing access to a career as a finance professional to talented people, regardless of their background, benefits the employers we work with and ultimately their customers and the wider public.

So what do young people think about a career as an accountant. Research was conducted as part of professions week with 1,200 young people from less advantaged backgrounds. The good news is that 90% of those we asked have heard of careers in the financial areas, such as an accountant or tax adviser. And 39% of those said they have a very good idea what an accountant does, with 54% saying they have a rough idea. This sounds positive, until we explore some of the other outcomes of the research. 23% have someone in their close network who is an accountant – the highest of all the professions listed. So where do the other 70% get their information from, and is it reliable? 45% think you need a university degree for a financial career, which of course isn’t true, so the right information definitely isn’t getting through. The other challenge is that 18% are interested in a career as an accountant – that’s a relatively good proportion given the number of professional careers we’re talking about, but if it’s founded on misconceptions, how can we reach these young people? And more worryingly, only 26% think they could become an accountant, even if they wanted to. The final hurdle is around their perception of a professional career. Thankfully, more respondents said it was exciting than those that said it was dull. But there are a lot that think it’s linked to paperwork and not people…most accountants I know say communication skills are paramount.

What we have a mixed picture, with a real desire to increase the visibility of the accessibility and attraction of an accountancy career. Last week was the start of a move to play an even greater role in reaching these young people with the right messages, and I know we can build on this. At an ACCA members event last week I put a call out for every member to play a part. We have provided the tools we have the right qualification, we have the right history…now is the time to take action.