Are apprenticeships the key for diversity in accounting?

Here's why it's time to knock down some of the barriers to entry in accounting with more comprehensive apprenticeships and work placement schemes.

Diversity and inclusion are at the top of the corporate agenda, yet the financial services sector remains largely a boys’ club. The ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) believes it’s time to knock down some of the barriers to entry in accounting with more comprehensive apprenticeships and work placement schemes.

This, according to the trade body’s submission to the Science and Technology Select Committee’s call for evidence in bridging the UK’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills gap published today. The ACCA believes apprenticeships can bring in young talent, and keep them interested in accounting with the right incentives and training.

“The world of work will change beyond all recognition over the next twenty years. We cannot afford to fail our younger generation by not providing advice, guidance and opportunity in developing the skills that the world needs,” says John Williams, head of ACCA UK. “If we can open more access routes to STEM-based careers, such as accountancy, we will see improvements in the social mobility and diversity of the profession.”

As ACCA prepares to offer its own Level 4 Accountancy/Taxation Technician Apprenticeship to students aged 16+ in England, it has pledged to also support members in opening up more apprenticeship places.

However, with recent ACCA research showing that almost a third of British 16 to 18 year olds have received no career advice on apprenticeships, ACCA has also called on the government to improve careers guidance and the visibility of apprenticeship routes for students.

Drawing on the success of ACCA Scotland in working with colleges to embed ACCA qualifications within Level 3 Accountancy Foundation Apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year olds, ACCA has highlighted the benefit of the Level 3 route in improving visibility of the accounting profession during secondary education.

STEM subjects have historically attracted lower levels of female students and ACCA’s submission highlights the drastic need for initiatives that give women the coaching and learning development they need to enter STEM related professions. On top of this ACCA highlights the need to address perceptions of the profession early on in a student’s career.

Why 16 to 18 year-olds? According to multiple different studies, girls in that age bracket are the most susceptible to external influences, potentially dissuading them from a career in the sciences or finance. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) took a comprehensive look at gender differences in student performance based on an exam taken by 15-year-olds and found that although girls often stay in school longer and out-perform boys in reading, the top-performing girls continue to lag behind top-performing boys in maths and science. The survey report explores possible reasons behind this gap: Importantly, girls report having lower levels of confidence in their maths abilities and experience higher levels of anxiety when performing maths-related tasks than boys.

A higher percentage of girls agreed with statements such as “I get very nervous doing mathematics problems,” and “I worry that I will get poor marks in mathematics.”

When does this anxiety set in for girls? Some studies have shown that up until around age 12, most girls show a preference for maths and science, but from when they enter their teen years, interest begins to wane, and many expect not to do as well in these subjects and attribute their failures to lack of ability.

If more girls have low levels of confidence in their math and science abilities at age 15, this could steer them away from STEM subjects in the next stage of their lives: choosing their career paths, or subjects to study at a tertiary level.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.