Martin Osler: Generation what? Why Johnston Carmichael looks for individual not stereotyped talent
Johnston Carmichael’s chief people officer Martin Osler discusses career progression at the firm, and how it is working hard to promote social mobility in the profession.
Given all of the conversations about how allegedly challenging it is to engage millennials in the workplace you’d be forgiven for avoiding employing young people altogether. And this makes me deeply concerned.
In some respects, we do live in a world of labels. But who are Generation Y or X or Baby Boomers? And if my birth date falls a week outside of that neat generational sweep, am I suddenly so different? It is dangerous to stereotype anyone, and we are in danger of doing this with our young people.
Whether it was Elvis Presley’s jiggling hips, watching too much TV in the 1980s, or teens being glued to their ‘tech’, older generations always fret about younger generations. However, our experience of the young people we employ at Johnston Carmichael is neither cookie cutter nor particularly problematic. In fact, it’s been highly successful.
Over our 80+ years in business we have continued to invest in young talent, growing our future leaders and considering how best to support them through all stages of their careers.
As part of our commitment to fostering a diverse and vibrant talent pipeline we have worked hard to evolve our recruitment process for young people. Among the measures we have introduced are open evenings at our key offices, allowing attendees to meet other students and senior people. We’re also moving towards a blind sift of applications to ensure impartiality, and assessment centres where we ensure our hiring decisions are based on understanding the whole person, rather than simply signing up those who excel at interview.
These changes are already producing positive results. This year we have welcomed 90 students into the firm. The recruits, who will be spread across our offices in Scotland and Newcastle, will benefit from a range of financial and practical support initiatives to ensure they are on the best foot to succeed. This includes fully paid qualifications, paid study leave to prepare for accountancy exams and support to develop professional networks.
While there may a modicum of hysteria about generational differences, there is no argument about differences in opportunity in our country. We understand that in order to remain successful we need talent that is diverse and with a range of life experience and circumstances. We are in a position to ensure people from all backgrounds get the opportunity to work in our firm and we are putting this into action. We recently entered a groundbreaking partnership with the ICAS Foundation to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and to promote greater social mobility in the profession.
As part of this exciting initiative, Johnston Carmichael will provide bursaries to two accountancy students for a period of up to four years until they are finished their degrees. The financial package aims to help with the cost of living and pay for materials related to their studies including textbooks and computing equipment.
The students, whose courses got underway in October, will additionally receive mentoring and an introduction to Johnston Carmichael’s networks.
Combined with our JC Futures scheme, which recruits school leavers directly, this is another step in our ‘walking the talk’ in ensuring our firm reflects the communities in which we work day to day.
As a firm we have a culture where we try to enable all of our people to be leaders of their work and their learning. This leader-to-leader culture encourages taking responsibility and a curiosity about our business and our clients, and what it takes to progress your career. We have an extensive inhouse programme of learning opportunities for our people and we will soon be introducing a bespoke programme for our students which now make up nearly a third of our total of 900 partners and employees.
We also run a Leadership Programme, soon to be accredited by a leading University, that can be accessed by external clients should they wish their people to experience a face-to-face, and positively challenging insight into what it takes to be a leader in a high performance environment.
After working from home during the pandemic, we have fully embraced flexible working, offering hybrid working based on a conversation to balance individual aspirations with business needs. We understand that our people may want to flex their office attendance week to week and month to month depending on their responsibilities.
Another recent initiative is the formation of our People and Culture Forum. Established last year to generate and implement ideas for positive change throughout the business, the forum provides an employee voice on challenges and opportunities for change.
It has quickly grown its reach and impact, with a variety of subgroups dedicated to issues including CSR, gender equality, working environment, and LGBTQIA+ inclusivity.
As a result of the latter, we shared moving posts for Pride Month from some of our people about their experiences. And while we will never rest on our laurels in respect of this or any diversity in our firm, we were encouraged to read colleagues talking positively about the supportive culture in our firm. It means a lot to us to be able to share such powerful and meaningful stories and we hope it not only reassures but also inspires candidates who are considering careers at Johnston Carmichael.
A diverse range of perspectives is crucial to ensuring both our people and our firm continue to grow and evolve for the better. We recognise that the way people approach their careers is changing and we want to help them to achieve their goals, in the way they want to achieve them, with Johnston Carmichael.
We have recently welcomed a considerable number of people who have joined in senior roles, looking for a new challenge in their careers. All of them have fed back how our approach to flexible working, and our enabling leadership culture was the difference in them moving to Johnston Carmichael.
So, from school leaver to senior hire, we see everyone as an individual with different perspectives and circumstances that will bring a vibrancy, a positive challenge, and a USP to our firm, helping to power our continued success. We will continue to offer all of our people the best possible working environment, eschewing labels for an approach that encourages individuals to thrive and achieve their potential.