Accountancy is trying hard to eradicate its elitist tag by targeting state school students, but the industry must speak as one voice.
More work must be done within state schools to encourage students to consider a career in accountancy, while making it easier for those who want to join the profession to do so.
In June the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission published its research ‘Non educational barriers to the elite profession evaluation’ which revealed how working-class applicants often struggle to get access to top jobs.
Interviews with staff from 13 elite accountancy, law and financial services firms responsible for 45,000 of the best jobs in the country discovered that bright working-class applicants are being systematically excluded.
Data collected for the project showed that as many as 70 per cent of the job offers made in 2014 were to graduates who had been educated at a selective state or fee-paying school, compared to 4 per cent and 7 per cent of the population as a whole.
The lack of diversity in accountancy appears to mirror the wider financial sector and the legal profession.
In response, the Sutton Trust formed in 1997 to improve social mobility through education, is calling on the industry to do more. It runs the Access Accountancy programme which it launched at a London inner city school in 2014.
The initiative is helping the industry build closer relationships with schools, teachers and parents to identify and support potential candidates. Firms can then explain the routes into careers in accountancy and boost state school students’ aspirations.
“There must be a cross-profession approach so that best practice is shared between large and small accountancy firms,” says the Sutton Trust’s programme manager Kathryn Davies. “Companies need to have a better interaction with schools and invite students into the office or go to a school and give a talk.”
She believes accountancy and society will benefit if the profession is more representative.
“You only get the best people into any industry by recruiting from all sections of society. We have set a goal of having 3,750 work placements filled by state school students by 2019.”
As part of the Access Accountancy programme firms are collecting case studies and data on how the profession is perceived among families where no-one has entered the industry before so specific recruitment barriers can be tackled.