By Daniel Hunter

Speaking as a panel member to a packed audience of people from business, education, accountancy and the legal profession this week, debating fair access to the professions, Liz Bingham, Managing Partner for People at Ernst & Young, said:

“Internships are jobs and should be treated as such. I would like to see all internships paid for — at Ernst & Young we pay all of the young people on our internships, school leaver and Smart Futures programmes. Young people deserve to be paid for the work that they do on internships — it’s reprehensible when they are not.”

More commitment required to young people’s early career lifecycles
Liz spoke passionately about the need for business to take more responsibility for the journey that young people are on at the start of their careers.

She said: “The leaders that I speak to in the professional practices industry are very passionate about and supportive of getting young people from all backgrounds into a career in their businesses.

“But more commitment and investment is required from all of us in supporting the whole of a young person’s early career lifecycle, rather than just an aspect of getting them into employment.

She admitted, “This stuff is difficult,” and said that change is tough and that business couldn’t just bolt on programmes or try and retrofit them onto what already exists. In order for practices to change in a sustainable way, business should re-think their approach at every stage of the career life cycle.

“We are all responsible for ensuring that our professions remain relevant to a diverse group of young people. And we must collaborate together — no one business or industry should own social mobility, it is all of our responsibility to work together to make wholesale change happen.”

Liz also told the audience how proud she was of the work the accountancy firm is doing on its Smart Futures programme, launched in May.
“It has enabled us to connect with those young people from non traditional backgrounds and help them see that there are many people who work here in this building [More London Place] that have had the same life experiences as them. And that working with us is a realistic career choice, whether that is as an accountant, an HR consultant or in the press office.”

Smart Futures is a ten month programme and is designed to give 15-17 year olds from less privileged backgrounds the knowledge, skills, networks and confidence to unlock their career potential. It better equips young people to secure a job. But unlike many work experience programmes, Smart Futures is a real stepping stone towards a career (at Ernst & Young) via the School Leaver programme or a university degree. And there are plans to expand next year across the UK — at present it is targeted at young people living in London.

Liz remarked, “85% (18 of 21) of the young people who signed up to Ernst & Young’s Smart Futures programme have applied for a career at Ernst & Young. I’m confident that before this year is out at least one of our Smart Futures graduates will be on a career path in Ernst & Young.

“That just gives me so much encouragement that these programmes work and that more affirmative action is required from us all if we are to take on the challenge laid down by Alan Milburn earlier this year.”

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