EY: Less social bias, more options for young people [Case study]

16 September 2016 -


EY is deploying a new philosophy to attract young managers to its workforce. Find out how innovation and the EY Foundation is helping the firm recruit (and retain) the best

EY is giving young people more and different choices.

Their philosophy recognises that everyone’s path in life is different, which is reflected in their strong focus on increasing social mobility and the diversity of their workforce.

Together with the EY Foundation, a charity set up in 2014, EY is spreading the word that having a great career shouldn’t be dependent on education or background. Their programmes open up the world of work to a wide range of young people from as many different backgrounds.

Eliminating social bias

EY are actively putting strategies in place to achieve their goals.

To eliminate social bias, for example, young people applying for roles at EY do not submit a CV.

Maggie Stilwell, Managing Partner for Talent in the UK and Ireland said: “We think it’s much better that our students complete a standard template without having to disclose the school or university they’ve been to.

“All of that is filtered out to enable us to look at people’s raw potential.”

EY have also dropped their requirement for a 2:1 degree or above and a minimum of 300 UCAS points. Stillwell said: “In the UK, these come loaded with social bias because of the way our education system works. But a 2:1 degree doesn’t of itself mean you’re suitable to work at EY.”

Smart Futures and Our Future

EY is a major corporate donor to independent charity the EY Foundation, which it founded two years ago (2014) to work directly with disadvantaged young people, with employers and social entrepreneurs, to create and support pathways into education, employment and enterprise.

EY supports young people through the charity’s Smart Futures programme: a 10-month programme for Year 12 students in England and 5th Year students in Scotland.

It gives young people access to paid work experience and improves their chances of getting a job, doing a degree apprenticeship, or going onto higher education after school or college. And it gives employers the chance to spend time with local young people they might not otherwise meet.

EY provides business experiences to young people and volunteers to the charity, who run workshops and training or become mentors.

School leaver apprenticeships

Since they introduced their School Leaver programme EY are getting into schools more and more. Stillwell said: “The programme offers a fantastic career entry point once you finish school, so there’s no better place to promote it. It gives access to exactly the same career trajectory as graduates. You’re earning good money and don’t have to repay loans of 40 grand or more that the average university leaver comes away with.”

To support diversity there’s no requirement for finance or accountancy degrees – the programmes are open to all degrees.

But Maggie recognises this path may not be for everyone; the point is that EY offers young people a chance to join at different points in their lives. There are many options, all of which offer a great way of experiencing EY and the opportunity for both parties to see whether or not it’s a suitable match.

“And if it isn’t, at least a young person goes away with a great brand on their CV and a better knowledge of themselves and what might suit them,” Still well said.

Getting in

“Our website is the main portal for all of our opportunities – anybody can apply,” Stillwell said. “But there’s no substitute for contact with real people, so our teams spend a lot of time in schools, on university campuses, career evenings and other networking opportunities. That’s because this is about finding a two-way fit: what does the young person need and what can EY provide.”

There’s a lot of emphasis on the selection process, and finding the ‘raw potential’ they’re after.

“We’ve committed to focusing on students’ aptitude and attitude in the workplace – behaviours that many employers are now saying are more important than GCSE or A-level results,” Stillwell said. “We think we’re good at giving young people all the knowledge, skills and (exam) support they need to be successful from day one.” One of the most important things about the programmes, says Maggie, is showing young people – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – that if you’re smart and willing to work hard there will be a role for you.

“It’s about making them aware of that. And it’s incredible to see that people come away with a completely different sense of who they are and what they can achieve.”

The role of business, Stillwell says businesses are often interested in taking on young people, but there’s “a lack of confidence, a lack of know-how, and a fear of getting it wrong”. And while she understands their apprehension, she is convinced that “the benefits of getting it right and having these young people on board are enormous”.

Her advice to businesses is to “just try it with a few. Link up with an organisation like the EY Foundation and see what happens. My guess is that next year, you’ll take on a few more because you will see first-hand what these people add to your business”.

The role of schools Up to very recently schools main priority was getting young people into higher education, not employment.

Stillwell said: “Schools, as well as parent’s are still a bit sceptical of programmes that take on people aged 18, likely because of the perception that if you aren’t on a graduate scheme you’re not going to have the same chances for progression.

“But for EY this just isn’t true.”

Stillwell said that EY is keen to emphasise that rather than a second-class solution for ‘those who aren’t bright enough to go to university’, EY’s programmes offer a real choice and opportunity for everyone. What’s needed now is to promote as loudly as possible that both options as equal, and for parents and educators to promote them as such.

Stillwell believes there is also more to be done to eradicate gender stereotypes in careers. She has been to technology career events at schools where the audience was 100% male.

“This isn’t acceptable in 2016, and more needs to be done to encourage girls to come along to these events as well,” she said. “Educators need to challenge gender stereotyping in young people’s subject choices. STEM subjects, and a career as a manager or leader in technology, are not just for boys.”

Work-readiness and skills

When Stillwell first learned that EY was taking on more school leavers, she admits an initial prejudice now eliminated from experience: “I thought I’d be able to spot them a mile off due to lack of maturity or confidence. But actually I can’t tell the difference between them and graduates. I can’t tell you how impressive they are.”

While there is an enhanced level of pastoral care for school leavers in the first few weeks, Stillwell says they learn very fast. They are mature and confident, which she believes is partly a consequence of their approach to recruitment: focusing on raw potential rather than background.

They’ve made it that far – why not go that bit further?


Eliminate social bias – job suitability has nothing to do with educational background. Keep an open mind, embrace diversity and welcome talented young people. Keep an open mind to the benefits and the perceived risks you have around employing young people.

Start small – try and test it. You don’t have to make a big commitment to be able to judge for yourself whether it’s the right thing for the organisation.

Don’t feel you have to go it alone – there are people and organisations out there to help, such as the EY Foundation. They will help you make it a success.

Maggie Stilwell is EY managing partner for talent in the UK and Ireland

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