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PwC’s New World New Skills scheme fuels levelling up

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 25 Oct 2022

The firm’s social mobility schemes aim to help young people develop strong, transferable skills that will set them up for solid careers.

Reaching talented people from all socioeconomic backgrounds is a necessity if firms are to ensure a steady supply of diverse talent while also doing societal good. 

PwC’s work in this area demonstrates the role that accounting firms can play within the levelling up agenda, opening up opportunities for people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to learn new skills and become more employable.

“The current societal challenges – and the challenges of the last two years – mean it’s more important than ever for us to engage with our communities and use our skills and resources to enable people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds across the UK to make the most of their potential, whether at PwC or elsewhere,” says Hollie Crompton, Social Mobility Lead at PwC.

PwC’s community engagement programme reaches more than 10,000 school students and more than 100 refugees per year, and the firm was one of the first organisations to return to in-person engagement in August 2021. It launched its New World New Skills work experience scheme at that time, and a New World New Skills schools series followed in the autumn. This is in addition to its online Employability Toolkit and virtual schools series, launched during lockdown. This year, the firm ran skills workshops in schools as part of its annual May volunteering day, One Firm One Day.

Schools outreach programmes are mapped to the Gatsby Benchmarks (developed to define world-class careers provision in education). PwC also worked with the not-for-profit international Skillsbuilder Partnership on all programmes to ensure the focus was on the right skills.

The aim of all of this outreach work is fourfold: to equip people with the skills to help them fulfil their potential and find employment; to remove barriers to access, linking the outreach programme to recruitment opportunities; to reach the most disadvantaged areas and groups according to national data, including local authority cold spots; and to share PwC’s collective expertise through volunteering opportunities.

“Our overall aim for the New World New Skills schools series programme was to give students an insight into the world of work, while providing essential skills needed for their future,” says Crompton. 

She explains that it is important to reach students early, before they make important decisions in their academic career, to help them see their potential. This August, PwC welcomed 219 year 12 (or equivalent) students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds around the UK – 52% were eligible for free school meals. It worked with partner organisations to invite students to join its paid, week-long work experience scheme. Of those attending, 49% were female, and 71% were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Students take part in team-building activities, give presentations and work on solutions to the type of problems faced by PwC employees – both in PwC offices and virtually. “We looked to retain an element of blended learning to create sustained engagement with schools across the UK,” says Crompton. All students were given personal laptops that they could keep after the week was over. 

For the first time, the scheme was also broadened to include younger people, giving under-14s the opportunity to spend the day in PwC offices and take part in sessions focusing on skills development, social skills and staff interactions. 

The programmes are well supported by the leadership team and social mobility is a key priority of the board, says Crompton: “We have a social mobility network with more than 3,300 members with partner sponsorship, which helps us deliver our programmes nationally with volunteer support. For each of our programmes, we have over 200 volunteers who deliver the programmes with our training and support.” 

PwC has been in the top 10 of the Social Mobility Employer Index since it was launched, says Crompton. Last year, it won ‘Leadership of the Year’ at the UK Social Mobility Awards. It has collaborated with other organisations, including competitors, ICAEW’s RISE initiative and Access Accountancy. Experts and partner organisations, such as the Social Mobility Commission, Social Mobility Foundation and the Sutton Trust, provide guidance.

“In autumn 2021, we welcomed 1,300 students from all areas of the UK from 50 schools,” says Crompton. “In spring 2022, we welcomed 1,600 students from 46 schools. We have more than 400 volunteers throughout the year helping us to deliver these programmes across 15 offices.” 

The paid work experience programme is increasing in popularity – 219 students took part in the programme this summer, while just under 200 were involved the year before. 

“Obviously focusing on social mobility and delivering these outreach programmes is the right thing to do, but PwC also believes there are strong business benefits,” says Crompton. “It’s not just about corporate social responsibility, it’s about talent and competitive advantage. Supporting social mobility is good for the economy, businesses and society.”

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