AAT is about recognising talent, in whatever form it comes in, and giving it the opportunity to thrive. It’s in our DNA. The number of inspirational stories from AAT members who have been able to forge impressive careers through both their own work ethic and the right opportunity is phenomenal.
By definition, we facilitate open access across the finance sector, and people see us as a force for good when it comes to accessibility. But we must take it further than that.
Social mobility needs to be at the heart of everything we do at AAT. We are here to enable people to achieve their potential, and we are open to all.
New initiatives to break barriers
We’re currently active with the Ministry of Justice to find out how we can help in prisons to deliver qualifications for inmates to build a legitimate career. That might not be what most people understand by ‘social mobility’ but this discussion should have no bounds.
Further Education in emergency mode
Solutions generally start much further upstream. Imbalance begins in our education system. There is a close link between low achievement in education and low social mobility.
The media talks about a funding crisis in schools. However, there is an even bigger problem in Further Education and it is closing off opportunities to those who need help the most.
Money allocated to 16- to-18-year-old college students has fallen by 8% since 2010. FE colleges were already running at a lower base than sixth-form equivalents so that had a huge impact. As a result, the Government had to set aside £57m of emergency funds for FE colleges in 2017. That’s why organisations such as Hull College Group have racked up millions in debt and have laid off staff.
All of this has a massive impact on social mobility – for many young people, it closes off their dream careers. Without action, we will end up with a lot of untapped potential in the UK.
Closing the gender gap
The gender divide is another key area. Women from less affluent backgrounds are more disadvantaged than men. Employers must do more to level the playing field.
AAT works hard to advance the cause of women in the workplace. We’ve been shortlisted for Employer of the Year at the Women in Finance Awards, with the likes of Aviva Investors, RBS and PwC. So we hope we’re doing something right in this regard.
Access for people with disabilities
People with disabilities also have to battle inequality. Those whose parents are professionals are twice as likely to land a job in a profession, compared to people with disabilities from a working-class background.
In general, we need to attract more disabled people in to the workplace. Scope suggests that a 10% rise in the employment rate among disabled adults would contribute an extra £12bn to the Exchequer by 2030.
Three ways to make a difference
All in all, there is some good work being done to improve inclusion. But of course, we want to achieve more. So how do we do it? Well as a starting point, here are three challenges to address:
1. Education can change the game
The Government needs to find more money for education. There needs to be balanced funding across schools, colleges, universities and apprenticeships.
This is a long term fix, but without more money and better priorities, inequality will be ‘baked in’ to our education system.
2. Business can make a difference
We will have to wait for funding changes to make a difference through education. But businesses can make an impact now. More organisations need to step up to the mark and commit to apprenticeship programmes. This will create a talent pipeline for them and create a way into the workplace for those who cannot consider the prospect of attending university.
It’s not all about apprenticeships, though. Employers need to raise the bar with training. In particular, there needs to be more retraining to support people who find they need to re-skill midway through their careers.
3. AAT members can have an impact
There are many ways AAT members can be a force for good. Those who run their own businesses, or who influence recruitment and employment policies within larger organisations, could look take a fresh look at their current practices.
Where good work is being done, why not shout about it? Inspire others. Be a force for change.
And where there is an opportunity to improve, take up the gauntlet, as some of the larger accountancy firms have already done.
Mark Farrar is the Chief Executive of AAT.