Accountancy's taking steps on social mobility

by Andrew Leck, ACCA

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30 May 2012

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Ladder to success

ALAN MILBURN, the coalition government's advisor on social mobility, launched his progress report into social mobility this morning: Fair Access to Professional Careers.

It's clear from Milburn's findings that the professions have work to do in widening access.

The highlight of the report is the fact that the accountancy profession gets a special mention in the report for having "consciously constructed ladders of opportunity that allow non-graduates to enter and progress in a professional career. They are to be commended."

But Milburn's report should not be a surprise as it was trailed last week in the Observer, where Milburn said in an interview that the heyday of social mobility – the 1950s, when there was a surge in social mobility – is being lost and squandered. The underlying message is the UK seems to be going backwards to elitism and exclusivity. His report marks the professions a C and a "could do better".

This morning, the Guardian and the BBC have focused their coverage on the medical profession and the civil service, but what of accountancy?

We can't rest on our laurels and we should not be complacent about access to our own profession, despite the commendation offered in the report.

I believe that accountancy can enhance both economic status and social mobility. But the key is to ensure that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are able to access this profession. ACCA has made a determined effort to ensure that this is the case. And we've done this by being flexible and by being relevant.

Offering choice is important if professions are to open up and not be exclusive. And I know that accountancy firms and employers work hard to ensure their recruitment practices are fair, open and honest, and that it's not all about graduate entry.

Through our work with employers, we are seeing an increased demand for flexible entry routes to qualifying. Employers and students are taking up these flexible options.

As Milburn says in his report, "the glass ceiling has been scratched and not broken", so his message is that there is more work to do. With Professions for Good, chaired by Louis Armstrong, the professions can make sure that we – including ACCA – measure and track performance, and nurture social mobility.

We are all working on the Social Mobility Toolkit, which offers guidance for the professions on data capture so we can truly monitor and measure our social mobility.

There is indeed work to be done, and I believe accountancy is a force for good and a force for change.

Andrew Leck is head of ACCA UK

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