The UK has one of the poorest rates of social mobility in the developed world. It means that people born into low-income families, regardless of their talent or their hard work, do not have the same access to opportunities as those born into more privileged circumstances.
It’s a situation only made worse by the pandemic, which had a disproportionate impact on many children from poorer families, the results of which will no doubt be felt for years to come. Programmes such as ICAEW-led Rise hope to act as a catalyst for change.
The scheme was founded by ICAEW, EY, KPMG, PwC, BDO and Grant Thornton to support the aspirations of young people from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Since its launch in December 2021, the programme has taught communication, problem-solving and teamwork skills to more than 3,000 pupils in over 50 workshops at schools across the country.
Jenny Pelling, Director of Apprenticeship Development and Diversity at Kaplan Financial, is a Rise volunteer: “Going back into schools and working with 14 to 16-year-old students highlights the challenge of post-COVID education. You can see the initial reticence in some students to contribute in a class setting or to work collaboratively – there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to help.”
Pelling got involved with Rise through Kaplan’s links with ICAEW. After seeing first hand the positive impact on young people, she started to promote it internally through Kaplan Financial, asking staff to allocate a day or a half day of their annual two-day volunteering leave to Rise. Kaplan’s CEO, Kathy Walton, has taken part already.
“I’m a massive advocate of volunteering,” Pelling explains. “I think we have a responsibility to give back no matter how old you are. If we’re in a professional setting, I think it behoves us to share some of that experience with people who might be intimidated or put off applying for something by thinking it’s not achievable.”
Pelling admits that volunteering can be one of the first things to fall off the to-do list: “It’s all too easy each month to think you haven’t got time to do it as you’re on the hamster wheel of your business as usual.”
Pelling says volunteering is an opportunity to help better the lives of others and leave a positive legacy. “I certainly would regret it if I got to the end of my career, and I hadn’t helped other people broaden their minds to potential careers and helped develop their confidence.”
Small input, huge impact
KPMG staff are given six days a year of allocated corporate social responsibility. It means employees can choose to volunteer under a range of different programmes including Rise. For Sarah Drasutis, a senior manager at KPMG, the social mobility angle and the opportunity to help local kids really hit home as she came from a similar background.
“I really champion the social mobility agenda because it appeals to me on a personal level. I’ve got a son who’s in high school himself and attends a school in a low socioeconomic area. This is the same school I attended when I was young,” she said.
Drasutis also enjoys the opportunity to do something completely different from her day job; she says the experience is very fulfilling and it feels great knowing she is doing some good in the community.
Drasutis remembers one student in particular who really stood out and drummed home the value of Rise. “One girl in the workshop was very energetic, but wasn’t really engaged in the tasks, and was playing the fool, acting up in front of her mates. But then we got a connection and drew her into the activities.
“By the end, she was openly saying, ‘I want to be like you, I want to be an accountant or lawyer.’ The purpose isn’t to get everyone on board to be an accountant, but it really made an impression. She could see a path for herself where she could use some of her skills. I think it really awakened her to what she had to offer.”
Why you should join Rise
Inspiring even one individual is worthwhile for half a day of your time, Drasutis says. “As professionals, we’ve got a lot to offer these kids just by showing up and giving a bit of our time. And I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the programme.”
Pelling adds: “It’s not always going to be easy, but it’s so worth doing because we’re here to create opportunity. Kaplan Financial believes in broadening access to the professions. Sometimes to achieve that, you’ve got to go to the schools where it’s toughest, but that’s also where you’ll make the biggest impact.”
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