For Lisa Newland, A Level results day was devastating – the doorway into a career in professional services got a lot smaller. She was used to achieving good grades, getting As and A*s across the board at GCSE, but now she was stuck with Cs and Ds.
“A lot of firms would only take you if you got two As and a B, or three Bs,” she says. “I knew I was capable of more. It was awful not getting those grades. You think: what on earth am I going to do? No one’s going to want to take me.”
With a career at a large firm seemingly off the cards, Newland took a job at a smaller practice, where she worked for three years. In the meantime, her brother was accepted onto an apprenticeship course in an audit team at another firm, so she started looking at alternative routes into the job she wanted.
Although the A Level requirements at many firms were still high, Grant Thornton UK LLP had launched a flexible approach to academic entry criteria – the first organisation in its sector to do so. Newland had an in through its school-leavers’ programme.
She applied and was accepted, finally getting the kind of role she’d always wanted. She has now completed her AAT qualification, is working to become chartered and is now part of the firm’s rotational programme within the advisory part of its business.
“It gave me the chance to not think of myself as a failure, which I think a lot of people at 17 or 18 can do when they don’t get the marks they want,” she says. “It’s definitely given me the confidence in exams and in working life. The academic requirements are changing for firms because they understand that the people they need aren’t necessarily just the people who get As in their exams.”
Grant Thornton has led the way when it comes to opening up access to the profession at the larger firms. The firm flexed its approach to academic requirements three years ago, and has been increasing the intake of apprentices onto its school-leaver scheme over the past six years.
“We realised the best people might not always be the most academic,” says Richard Waite, Grant Thornton’s Resourcing Lead. “They might not necessarily have got those grades, but they might have some really great other skills that they can bring to us and our clients.
“Shaping a vibrant economy means creating an environment where everyone can flourish – for us, this started by breaking down barriers into the profession and opening up access.”
Grant Thornton’s application process involves four different segments, academic achievement being just one, Waite explains. “It’s a more inclusive way of assessing talent.”
The move serves two purposes for the firm. First, Grant Thornton’s teams will better reflect the diversity of clients. Second, the strategy is part of a wider effort to create a more inclusive, people focused culture, where everyone has a say in the direction the firm moves in, and plays a part in driving the success of the business.