“Social mobility needs to improve across the entire career journey, but there need to be different entry points,” says Sharon Spice, Director Global Student Recruitment, ICAEW. She points to BASE, a national business and accounting competition for 16–17-year-olds. “It provides a glimpse of what it’s like to be a chartered accountant. Activity like this really helps in improving social mobility,” she says.
Spice concedes that when ICAEW looked at how ICAEW was marketing the profession to young people in previous years, it had to change everything it was saying. It had to learn how to engage with a more diverse, younger group of people.
Off the back of the original BASE competition came a version of BASE aimed at university students, ICAEW 100. This has engaged 33,000 students across 150 universities so far.
There is also an ongoing programme of interventions supported by ICAEW, including Access Accountancy, which has offered 3,800 work experience opportunities via 25 organisations, by the end of 2019. “We would welcome more employers,” says Spice. “We need to make a difference at scale.”
On top of all this is RISE – a pilot programme supported largely by the Big 6 accountancy firms that delivers skills sessions, not just relating to the accountancy profession but across other disciplines too. It is hoped that this will be rolled out further so more organisations can get involved.
“It is now understood that talent comes from many places, not just through universities,” says Spice, pointing to Level 4 and Level 7 apprenticeships. “Employers are looking for a blended approach to recruitment, to ensure they get access to a diverse talent.”
Spice was speaking at a webinar, hosted by Iain Wright, ICAEW’s Director Business and Industrial Strategy. He introduced Ian Kerr, Operations Director, The Growth Company, Education & Skills, who spoke about the government’s Kickstart scheme. This provides funding to employers to create job placements for 16–24-year-olds on Universal Credit.
Kickstart is a work experience programme that provides fresh opportunities to young people and also delivers to participating organisations new talent, fresh thinking, new energy and fresh ambition, says Kerr. He says this has been a tough year for the new generation of work entrants and this scheme is an opportunity to make a difference.
Also participating in the event was Donna Bulmer, Regional Managing Partner, Haines Watts, North East & Yorkshire. She says her firm is helping school-leavers and graduates to find pathways into the profession. The firm has partnered with a local charity to help young people improve their interview techniques and brush up their CVs. Not only that, the firm has been making podcasts to showcase the opportunities for young people at the firm, not only in accountancy roles but also in support areas.
Zoe Lewis, Principal & CEO Middlesbrough College, talked about digital poverty, especially during the pandemic, and the need to level up in terms of access to fast broadband and reliable hardware. Although the college has distributed 1,000 laptops across the last year, this has still not been enough, she says. Deprivation is a definite dis-enabler to achievement.
The college itself is both a Kickstart gateway and a Kickstart employer. There have been 38 such placements made available at the college itself.
Finally, Kelly Illingworth-Turner, Vice Principal Students, Cardinal Newman College – a six-form college – said that pandemic had extenuated vulnerabilities for young people. She says: “Young people have said that following the pandemic they had lost hope.” This is what makes pastoral care that bit more pressing.
It is feedback like this from young people themselves that makes ICAEW, government and accountancy practices’ initiatives around social mobility so important. You can hear a recording of the event here.