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Rise: elevating opportunities in the South West

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 25 Oct 2023

Albert Goodman has joined Rise to improve social mobility in the South West of England. Through the initiative the firm has supported workshops at three local schools and engaged its staff at all levels.

The South West of England has some of the most income-deprived pockets in the whole country, with school attainment gaps between poor pupils and the rest standing as the largest of all English regions at the end of both primary and secondary school. Social mobility efforts could not be more needed, which is one of the reasons accountancy practice Albert Goodman joined the Rise initiative.

With upward occupational mobility the third lowest of 19 regions in 2015, and West Somerset ranked bottom of 324 local authority districts in the Social Mobility Index according to research by the University of Exeter and the Centre for Social Mobility, the need for an occupational uplift is urgent.

The 300-plus strong firm based in the South West of England has a long history of offering opportunities to those not on the traditional university trajectory. 

Partner Sophie Parkhouse joined the profession as a school leaver from a working-class background. No one in her family had gone to university or done A-levels, and she didn’t see university as the best route for her. Instead, Parkhouse was looking for an employer that would offer her an opportunity straight from school.

Now, as a partner, Parkhouse is supporting social mobility within Albert Goodman, with her own professional experience complementing the firm’s sustainability ethos. This year, it achieved B Corp status as part of its efforts to work towards net zero by 2030 and to be more community focused. 

Parkhouse, who is the technical training partner, says: “Becoming a B Corp and joining Rise is driving purpose and value through our business. We are passionate about learning and development. We want to be able to give our people lots of opportunities to learn and progress, as well as support the development of people more widely by creating connections with local schools and communities.”

Wider benefits

So far, Albert Goodman has enlisted three of its staff members, including Parkhouse, to support workshops across three different regional schools: Newton Abbot College, Wadham School near Crewkerne, and the Taunton Academy.

“We tried to match people that are near the schools to the different workshops that Rise has run. We launched our volunteering day this year, making it available to all of our people so that everyone can volunteer a day per year. We share the Rise opportunities and if anybody wants to use their volunteering day to support the initiative then we sign them up,” Parkhouse explains. 

The practice chose to support the Rise workshops with three different levels of its people. Parkhouse, as a partner, supported the first workshop, followed by one of their ACA trainees and also a member of the central services team who isn’t in an accounting role. 

This approach highlights how Rise is something that the whole firm can get behind, she says. “It doesn’t have to be just one person in an organisation. It’s very much a learning experience for our people as well, in terms of going into a new environment without colleagues, developing relationships with other professionals and the people attending and leading the session.” 

Parkhouse believes the initiative is also about being an ambassador and ensuring that those involved demonstrate the values of the profession and their place of work to set an example to younger people. 

“There is something for everyone to learn in taking part no matter where you are in your career,” she says. “This was evident from the feedback we had from attendees, who all had a different learning experience and levels of satisfaction from it. We all came away feeling like we’ve made a difference. And that’s what matters.”

In the workshop she participated in, Parkhouse tells of “a tangible output” when one student wouldn’t engage or take part at first. But by the end of the workshop, she had managed to get that pupil to put pen to paper and engage in a workshop exercise.

“That was really good. Challenging mindsets in terms of the way people see things and what their aspirations are for the future, and helping them to see that, is rewarding. It doesn’t matter what your background is. It can still be an enabler for you. We don’t have to see our backgrounds as barriers,” she says.

Looking to the future

Parkhouse is keen to encourage more people at Albert Goodman, whatever their role, to take the opportunity to participate in Rise workshops in the future.

“It’s a volunteering opportunity where there’s a low barrier to entry, whereas for some volunteering opportunities, you have to jump through a lot of hoops to be able to make it happen,” she says. “Participating in a Rise workshop is a good first step to volunteering. I will continue to encourage lots of different people to take part. And I’m sure I will do another one as well.”

Given the South West’s unenviable ranking in the Social Mobility Index, more and more employers are needed to support the Rise initiative, which it hopes to expand further this year by matching employers with local schools. For now, though, Albert Goodman is leading the way among employers in the region by sharing its knowledge of the modern workplace, business skills and how students, whatever their background, shouldn’t limit their own horizons.

“From an employer perspective, we have to think about a future pipeline of people, and who wants to come and work with us. It's also about being part of our local community. That’s really important to us,” Parkhouse says. “We’re a South-West firm, so it’s making sure that we get our roots into the South West and ensure that it’s known that we are there to help people achieve.”

More on Rise

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Your organisation can support social mobility and help young people develop the skills that business needs by joining Rise.

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