By Catherine Burnet CA, President, ICAS
Now more than ever professional services must continue to offer opportunities to up-and-coming talent, says Catherine Burnet CA.
Coronavirus is now part of our daily lives. We keep a safe distance and wear masks, but many have begun returning to long-deserted offices. For working professionals, it may feel some sense of normality is finally returning.
But as we set foot into offices transformed by antibacterial stations and walls of Perspex, our attention must turn to those whose futures look even less predictable than our own. Young people are entering the workforce at an unprecedented time. Companies are restructuring, recruitment figures are yet to recover, and entry-level positions in many sectors have seemingly disappeared overnight.
It’s a perfect storm that could stall the progress of young people for years to come. Even greater than the recessions of decades past, this pandemic risks creating a “lost generation” whose skills and talent are not supported by our economy. The knock-on effects of prolonged unemployment, especially at such a critical stage for newcomers to the workforce, could engender a sense of betrayal and disenfranchisement among our young people. It’s a big ask to expect resilience from those still looking for their first full-time role.
The government’s new Kickstart Scheme, which funds six-month placements of minimum-wage work for under-25s deemed at risk of long-term unemployment, is exactly the sort of emergency response needed during this crisis. But engaging and training young people is an area in which the financial and professional services sectors have long excelled. Each year, graduate schemes provide thousands with secure jobs, roads to valuable qualifications, and the opportunity for long and fruitful careers. In 2019, the Big Four alone hired more than 6,000 graduates, apprentices and school leavers.
Despite the challenging environment, youth employment is an area in which I’m pleased to see indications that our sector is holding strong. We’ve seen cancelled summer internships turned into guaranteed jobs for 2021, and data shared privately with CA magazine suggests the Big Four are on track to maintain strong graduate recruitment levels in 2020. That is a remarkable achievement that we should all be proud of.
This ongoing strength owes a great deal to the nature of our work. Whether organisations are experiencing the good, the bad or the in-between, we remain steadfast in our role of providing expert advice. As I wrote in last month’s issue, the crises brought about by the pandemic present new opportunities for us to demonstrate leadership and authority, and the impending surge in youth unemployment is one area in which we must all play our part.
As the economy enters a period of extreme stress, outreach initiatives that engage and inform young people about our professions will only grow in importance
At ICAS, we have an important role to play in equipping young people with the skills to tackle tough times. Around 4,000 students are currently working towards their CA qualification with us – similar in scale to many universities. Each student presents an opportunity for ICAS to directly influence their outcome, and the syllabus is constantly refreshed to ensure maximum relevance.
ICAS has enacted many measures to minimise disruption. Half of our student body continued training and sat their examinations online during lockdown, ensuing their career journey remained on track. We set up chatrooms to quickly resolve queries about the new examination process, and live Q&A sessions have routinely attracted more than 500 students at a time. It’s clear proof that extraordinary times need not be a barrier to achieving those early professional milestones.
However, our responsibilities to young people also extend beyond the current student cohort. Now, more than ever, we must ensure the financial and professional services sectors are outward-looking, accessible and seen to offer fulfilling careers for those of all backgrounds. As the economy enters a period of extreme stress, outreach initiatives that engage and inform young people about our profession will grow in importance. Let’s shine a light on accountancy’s enduring role as a reliable and rewarding career path.
This article first appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of CA magazine.