Misconceptions about accountancy ‘creating barriers’ for next generation of talent

New research from Grant Thornton UK LLP shows that many young people have misconceptions about careers in accountancy, which may be creating unnecessary barriers and preventing them from seeing it as an attainable option, limiting the potential future talent pool of the profession.

In the research, the leading accountancy firm explores Generation Z’s view of accountancy as a career. ​Analysing the responses of 2,000 people aged between 16 and 25 in the UK, the study seeks to better understand the attitudes and perceptions towards the accountancy sector of this age group.

The top misconceptions held by Gen Z about accountancy, identified in the research, are:

  • 62% believe you need high grades to become an accountant​​
  • 57% believe you need to go to university to become an accountant​​
  • 57% think training for accountancy qualifications is expensive​​
  • 53% think accountants sit at desks all day

Outdated or limited careers advice impacting understanding

The level of misunderstanding about the profession identified by the research may be explained by the finding that two thirds (65%) of young people have never received careers advice about accountancy.

Those that have are most likely to have received it at school or college, however, the type of school attended affects how much information young people receive.

Those attending private schools are 20% more likely to have received careers advice about accountancy than those from comprehensive schools. Private school students are also more likely to know an accountant than those attending comprehensive schools (52% vs 43%).​

Social media and online research are the next most popular ways to source information about accountancy for Gen Z.

Those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to find information in this way, they are also less likely to receive advice about the profession from a family member or friend.

Richard Waite, people and culture director at Grant Thornton UK LLP, said: “There are now so many different routes available for young people considering joining the accountancy profession, whether that is starting on an apprenticeship straight from school, undertaking an internship or placement, or following the traditional graduate route.

“But it’s clear that there remain significant, and detrimental, misconceptions about access to and working in the accountancy profession.

“It’s therefore vital that employers, such as Grant Thornton, take action to help bridge that gap so we do not miss out on attracting the next generation of new and diverse talent to the sector.

“Employers need to take the time to actively educate young people, to reach out and work with schools in target areas, such as social mobility cold spots, to tackle some of these false barriers and provide much-needed advice and insight to those considering the next step in their lives.”

The attainability gap

The research finds that the school you attended has a significant impact on whether you view accountancy as an attainable career. Private school attendees are 25% more likely to believe that a career in accountancy is attainable than those from comprehensive schools.

Gender is also found to impact young people’s perceptions of attainability. Men are 13% more likely to believe that a career in accountancy is attainable than women.

Overall, half of respondents believe that accountancy is an attainable career for them, while one in four (24%) disagreed. Of those who disagreed, one third attributed it to not knowing enough about the profession to consider it for a career.

John O’Mahony, Gatwick practice leader at Grant Thornton UK LLP, said: “It’s clear that the accountancy profession needs to work harder to bust historic misconceptions.

“There remain clear misunderstandings about not only the routes to entry but also the scope of the career on offer, which may be preventing many from considering it as an option.

“Both the people and the careers available within accountancy are now more varied and diverse than ever before, with opportunities for international travel, varied work across different sectors and specialities and long-term career prospects.

“It’s evident that we need to showcase this more prominently and shine a light on the reality of the working accountancy world and the broad and rewarding career path it can offer.

“The school you attend, your background or gender should not dictate your access to information or the career path you follow yet our research shows that these factors contribute to the level of exposure to and understanding that a young person may have of the profession.

“Volunteering our time, through established initiatives such as Access Accountancy, RISE and our own firm’s Schools Enterprise Programme, to build confidence and knowledge with a wider range of young people will encourage a better understanding of the sector.

“Without a concerted effort to tackle these lingering misconceptions, we risk, inadvertently, missing out on a huge diverse pool of untapped talent.”

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