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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Purpose and the Profession: Social Mobility and the Public Sector: Key findings
Finance careers start later in the public sector
Higher vs lower Socio Economic Background (SEB):
Socio-economic background, by sector
All sectors, excluding public sector
The survey showed that public finance professionals were more likely than those in other sectors to come from comparatively disadvantaged backgrounds.
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.