As we’ve seen in previous articles on social mobility, the accountancy profession can hold its head high in this area – four of the UK’s five largest accountancy firms were involved in the initiative.
But what about from the young person’s point of view? How can you show young people, particularly those from deprived or harder-to-reach backgrounds, that a profession such as accountancy is something they could aspire to?
Sam Cosgrove is well-known as a Scottish Premier League footballer, having made some 40 appearances with Aberdeen Football Club. What’s less well-known is that he’s also currently studying for his AAT Advanced Diploma.
An ambassador for young people
“The position we find ourselves in being footballers is that we can change a lot of people’s lives,” he says. “We can go out and see young people and offer them support and guidance.”
Professional football can be a ruthless business, Cosgrove says. “It’s hard knuckle, but if you do things right, the rewards are there for you. The part we can play is to offer motivation and a pathway to people – especially young adults.”
Cosgrove did not come from a difficult background himself – “my parents were extremely supportive” – but he’s conscious that not everyone has that support. “I know how much it helped me when I was growing up and if I can now show how important education is to children, it can only benefit them.”
Having a back-up plan
Football being a lucrative but also precarious career, Cosgrove took the sensible view that he needed a safety net and started studying for his accountancy exams two years ago.
For Cosgrove “it’s a great stepping stone, it opens up a lot of avenues whether in accountancy itself or elsewhere; because it’s such a highly regarded skill to have. Whatever happens in the future, it was a good decision that will put me in good stead.”
This personal development has enabled him to speak with authority when going into schools. “It’s vital to aim for the stars, but it’s also essential to have your feet grounded and have a back-up plan. Football was therefore always the aspiration, “but education is definitely something that should be a fall back for aspiring sportspeople.”
Working with young people
What does the day-to-day of Cosgrove’s work with young people look like?
Most of the work is centred on schools and it often entails going to sports clubs in the evening or early afternoon, “when the kids are training and playing football themselves. We make sure it’s fun, they ask questions about the game but there’s also the more serious element which is talking to them about the fact that it’s not all plain sailing.”
You have to work hard for what you want, Cosgrove says. “I think the main aim when you talk to children is – keep them engaged. Make it as fun as possible but also let them know it is tough.”
Cosgrove himself is only 22; how has he coped with high-profile success at such a young age? “It’s something I’ve been subconsciously training for all my life; since I was relatively young I’ve lived away from home and have had to look after myself.”
Before starting his studies, “I may not have been able to talk to children the way I do now and in public; but I’m growing as a person and becoming more confident and more social.”
- Be ambitious, but think about all possibilities. “You’ve got to follow your dreams but it’s hard when you’re young. You can’t be naïve: you’ve got to have your head screwed on”.
- Education is a huge step towards a positive future. “The first stage is to try to engage. For young adults, it’s important to do this as much as possible and offer advice about how to be successful; whether that’s socially, at work or in developing a long-term career”.
- Ambassadors from high-profile professions like sport can engage with young minds. “We can get the key points across about determination, hard work and graft, because young people will listen to us.”
For more on social mobility:
- How accountancy is opening doors in social mobility
- Upwardly mobile – why social mobility matters
- Social mobility and accountancy in 10 charts
Mark Blayney Stuart is Business Journalist of the Year, Wales Media Awards 2017 and Former Head of Research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.