Public sector an inclusive route into finance, global figures in ACCA study reveal

Accountants in the public sector are starting their finance careers later than peers in other sectors, according to a new report from ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants).

Purpose and the Profession: Social Mobility and the Public Sector sets out ways of promoting social mobility, as well as the role of the public sector and the accountancy profession in providing equal opportunity to all.

A worldwide survey of more than 1,300 ACCA students and members working in the public sector aimed to explore social mobility issues. Results showed two thirds of respondents working in the public sector started their qualification when they were aged 26 or older.

In comparison, respondents in non-public sectors were much more likely to pursue their ACCA qualification aged between 18 and 22. Results also highlighted 80% of the public finance professionals questioned, hailing from comparatively disadvantaged backgrounds.

The survey showed that finance professionals working in the public sector were more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds – where their parents typically had lower educational attainment and did not work as professionals or managers.

Alex Metcalfe, head of public sector policy at ACCA, said: ‘These results suggest that, globally, the public sector finance function is providing a more effective route into the profession for those from comparatively lower socio-economic backgrounds.

‘This could be the result of better diversity and open access initiatives in the public sector or it could be led by an organisational culture that is more aware of biases, where some of these issues are overcome through additional processes such as name-blind application assessment.’

Metcalfe continued: ‘ACCA’s survey demonstrated that, irrespective of social background, there is strong support across the profession for career opportunities to be available to everyone.’

The research also showed certain individuals benefiting from an ‘entrenched advantage’ from early childhood through to school years, where they are able to present themselves as more work-ready than their peers.

In response, some public sector employers have taken affirmative action in selecting candidates from more diverse backgrounds for hiring or promotion. For example, by offering guaranteed interviews to applicants from disadvantaged groups, an otherwise exceptional candidate from a disadvantaged background, who might otherwise have been sifted out at the application review stage, could be offered the position.

Mark Millar, ACCA’s vice president and chief executive of St Elizabeth Hospice, Ipswich, revealed how he was drawn to working exclusively in the public sector. 

He said: ‘Coming from a blue collar rather than white collar/professional family, I studied, qualified and spent a career working in the public sector. In my case, I joined from school aged 18. 

‘My own observation is that many who join the public sector do so with a sense of service for their community and in many cases it is not until they have been there some years that they see the possibilities for advancement that come with a professional qualification.

‘In any case this report shows the importance of ACCA’s open access for those of ability and application in providing opportunity for talented individuals and growing the profession the world needs. These individuals and their contributions are to be valued.’

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For media enquiries, contact:

 

Maurice Richmond

E: Maurice.Richmond@accaglobal.com

Tel: 020 7059 5138

Twitter: @ACCANews

Purpose and the Profession: Social Mobility and the Public Sector: Key findings

Intro:

  • In 2017, 13,653 ACCA members and students from more than 160 countries responded to a survey exploring issues related to social mobility. Of these respondents, more than 1,300 were working in the public sector.

Finance careers start later in the public sector

  • Two-thirds of respondents (67%) working in the public sector started their ACCA qualification when they were 26 or older – with the largest cohort starting in their late 20s.
  • In comparison, respondents working in other sectors (43%) were much more likely to have started pursuing their ACCA qualification between the ages of 18 and 22.

Social mobility:

  • 92% said access to career opportunities regardless of social background was important
  • Finance professionals from more privileged socio-economic backgrounds just as likely as others to value ‘equal opportunity for all’
  • 80% of public sector respondents came from a relatively disadvantaged socio-economic background
  • 81% of public sector respondents described the ACCA qualification as ‘accessible’
  • 67% of those working in the public sector started their ACCA qualification once they were 26 or older

ACCA membership:

  • Alongside starting their qualification later, public sector respondents were also more likely to achieve full membership at an older age
  • 59% of ACCA members working in other sectors became full members between the ages of 21 and 30, whereas most public sector respondents (54%) became full members in their 30s or 40s

Higher vs lower Socio Economic Background (SEB):

Socio-economic background, by sector

 

Higher SEB

Lower SEB

Public sector

20%

80%

All sectors, excluding public sector

28%

72%

The survey showed that public finance professionals were more likely than those in other sectors to come from comparatively disadvantaged backgrounds.

  • Respondents with a parent who had completed university and worked as a professional or manager were categorised as coming from a higher SEB.
  • On the basis of this grouping, only 20% of respondents working in the public sector came from a higher SEB. This was in comparison to 28% of respondents working in other sectors who came from a higher SEB.

Parental influence:

  • Respondents from a higher SEB were more likely to report that a parent had influenced their decision to join the accountancy profession (16%), than their lower SEB peers (10%).

About ACCA

ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is the global body for professional accountants, offering business-relevant, first-choice qualifications to people of application, ability and ambition around the world who seek a rewarding career in accountancy, finance and management.

ACCA supports its 208,000 members and 503,000 students in 179 countries, helping them to develop successful careers in accounting and business, with the skills required by employers. ACCA works through a network of 104 offices and centres and more than 7,300 Approved Employers worldwide, who provide high standards of employee learning and development. Through its public interest remit, ACCA promotes appropriate regulation of accounting and conducts relevant research to ensure accountancy continues to grow in reputation and influence.

ACCA has introduced major innovations to its flagship qualification to ensure its members and future members continue to be the most valued, up to date and sought-after accountancy professionals globally.

 

"These results suggest that, globally, the public sector finance function is providing a more effective route into the profession for those from comparatively lower socio-economic backgrounds."

Alex Metcalfe - ACCA head of public sector