Moving forward: an age of enlightenment

One of our favourite educational pillars – maths – saw 43.7% of its entrants
score A-grades.

The detractors will claim that the exams have got easier over the last two
decades. But the numerate disciplines are seeing an increase in uptake and
although we lag behind many countries in scientific instruction, there is
clearly much to take heart in.

Rather less pleasingly, there is a lot of murkiness when it comes to careers
coaching in the 16 to 18 year old age group. Research carried out for my firm by
YouGov suggests 48% of 18 to 30 year olds were underwhelmed with the careers
advice they received. So at what age should accountancy start to be elucidated
and become an option for the forward-thinking student?

We’d be kidding ourselves if we imagined that 10-year-olds dream of
accountancy in the way they do about careers in football, pop-singing or space
exploration. But a few years later, those applying themselves to academic theory
with fervour will be willing to have their vocational eyes opened.

The accountancy talent farmers, so good at university milk-rounds, must ask
themselves if it is the time to invest more in the younger generation. We are
short of people and, although it could be argued that staff retention is a
bigger issue, it would be smart to sell ourselves to the uninitiated and maybe
bring the tipping point forward a couple of years.

Although there is glamour to be found in accountancy – m
arble-lined offices, seven figure salaries and such like for the cream – for
most of us the attractive aspects have arrived quietly along the path rather
than in a blinding epiphany.

Security, respect, financial rewards, variety, etc. make ours an attractive
career. But we are a funny bunch; still suffering (and perpetuating?) poor press
thanks to the previous generation’s John Cleese-inspired mockery and too keen to
hide in the back office, yet insistent that we should attract the best and the

To lure today’s teenagers, we need to convince a new generation of the
opportunities while dispersing the stereotype. We offer a career that forges a
path to FTSE company leadership for the most ambitious or for others promises an
interesting, rewarding job in every town. That’s a story worth making clear.

Richard Ashcroft is group finance director of Harvey

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