We are actively exploring ways to open up the profession to the next generation of recruits without losing ethics and hard-won expertise.
One of the great delights of this
role is to meet our members. I can’t help but notice the difference between
meetings of newly qualified members; lots of dark hair, energy bursting out
from every pore, masses of intellectual firepower – scary! Our Institute’s
future is in good hands. I know I couldn’t pass the exams that they have just
taken. On the other hand, there are the lads and lasses more like me; plenty of
grey hair (or little of it), wrinkles and lots of stories about the profession
40 or 50 years ago. I feel very much at home.
Possibly the most important aspect
of ICAS is its ability to train its students. Education has always been a huge
part of our professional life and of ICAS, and we are admired for it worldwide.
But, there are changes on the way. All-graduate entry showed the outside world,
if proof were needed, that accountancy is an intellectual profession. Indeed,
the CA is ranked as equivalent to a master’s degree. But with the change in the
economic climate, students could well stop going to university, especially if
Scotland is unable to retain a no-fee culture for home-based Scots, although
some of our students already have to cope with university fees.
So young people may think of other
things to do, and if we stick to an all-graduate path to entry, we would
automatically exclude them from joining the profession.
At the recent Gold Club event (for
those who qualified 50 years ago or more) a great cheer went up when I reminded
them of our apprenticeship days: the Friday nights and Saturday morning classes
taught by the partners of the firms; the late classes on a Friday followed by
visit to the pub and then to the chippy, where we dined on fish or black
pudding suppers (ideal for topping up one’s cholesterol); the fact that we
physically visited the Institute on a weekly basis; and the exams which we sat
in an atmosphere of fear, having been told on our first day to look to the
right, and to left, and these were the two who were going to fail – only a
third tended to pass in those days.
But the apprenticeship was a happy
period; we may have worked hard and had to take classes in our own time but
were given good education by our mentors and a great grounding in all aspects
of professional life.
We are going to explore the school
leaver programme. It is one of the sad things about today’s profession that our
small firms do not train as many CAs as they did in my day. Yet these
youngsters will be the firms’ future – the partners of tomorrow.
Part of the problem is that
graduates, tend to be more costly to employ and train than school leavers. We
are actively exploring how we could expand the latter route - bringing back the
We intend to do more! We are proud
of our graduate entrants and would like to assist those with the potential, but
who believe they can’t afford, or lack the confidence, to go to university. A
few months ago in this column, I talked about the launch of the ICAS
Foundation, and how we hope to encourage and assist students from deprived
areas who wish to go to university.
Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI)
has developed another alternative for those who have missed the opportunity to
be a CA. There are many people in their late 20s or early 30s who wish that
they had become chartered accountants, but believe that it is too late to
change career. The Irish have introduced a scheme, which the ICAS Council is
now considering, that would allow these people to pay for their courses and sit
exams. Having passed, they would then become very marketable to firms and to
others. They would still have to serve time learning the ethics of the
profession and what it means to be a professional.
The bar would not be lowered;
whether school leaver, late entrant or graduate, exams would be exactly the
same, and it is that high bar in our educational system that makes me so proud
to be a Scottish Chartered Accountant. We want to extend the opportunity to
join what, in my view, is our elite group: the CA!