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Dropping academic barriers fosters diversity

Dropping academic barriers fosters diversity

Two years ago, leading business and financial advisers Grant Thornton UK LLP was the first professional services firm to remove academic entry requirements for both its school leaver and graduate trainee schemes. Since the approach was changed* in 2013 Grant Thornton has seen a number of measurable changes in the diversity and background of its intake. 

These include: Grant Thornton's 2014 intake was made up of 12 percent who didn’t meet the old criteria. For 2015 this is set to rise above 20 percent.Those 12 percent who joined last year have comparable performance in professional exams as the wider intake.

Those who have taken advantage of accessing trainee schemes since the change to the academic  criteria are more likely to have gone to state school (88 percent v 69 percent) and are more likely to have received free school meals (11 percent v 6 percent).

Relaxing academic requirements has led to an increase in candidates from the bottom 50 percent of schools (measured by Ofsted reporting) from 28 percent of class to 42 percent.**

The new approach, which has no strict minimum academic requirements, considers candidates in a holistic manner. While still looking at academics, the process takes in to account aspects such as leadership potential, cultural fit, initiative, work experience and impact made on others. 

Norman Pickavance, Partner and Board Member for Brand and Culture at Grant Thornton UK LLP, said: “When we were considering the type of skills that we need to take the firm in to the future we knew we needed to make some radical changes that helped us to unlock talent and increase diversity of thought.  Looking around the senior leaders in our business we realised that many of them would not have made it past the first hurdle of our old academic entry requirements, which led us to realise that this rigidity was limiting our access to great talent.

“Two years on we've made some fantastic progress and are pleased to observe that the new generation of our people come from more diverse backgrounds, therefore bringing a wide range of views and talents to the firm and better reflecting the clients we work alongside. We are engaging with schools and universities we've never previously accessed, securing talent that we have traditionally not tapped into.”

Lisa Newlands joined Grant Thornton last year through the School Leavers Programme, which offers young people a different route into a career, one that bypasses university and goes straight into work after school.  She said: “When I finished school I decided not to go to university because I wasn't sure what subject to do and I didn’t want to waste time and money.  Initially I got a job in a London accountancy firm where I spent three years gaining foundation skills in office working and understanding of the profession.  When I started looking for roles with more opportunities to advance my career I found that I wasn't even considered because of my A Level grades. When I heard that Grant Thornton had relaxed its academic requirements I immediately applied as it was the opportunity I'd been waiting for. I've found that this different route in to the firm has given me a unique perspective and the chance to pursue a career that I love.”

Pickavance continued: “We're pleased to see that other firms are starting to follow suit and relax academic entry requirements. For this year's school leavers and graduates there are more opportunities than ever before to build a successful career, and a wider variety of routes through which to start successful careers with top employers.”

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