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Our sector must be 'Open to All'

Rosie Horton, Communications Officer
Wednesday 16th August 2017
Children England and the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), Open to All encourages charities to only ask for a degree when completely necessary for a role." data-share-imageurl="https://www.leapconfrontingconflict.org.uk/sites/default/files/field/image/LEAP%20CC%20AWARDS%20EVENING%202016%20-%2082.jpg">

We are extremely proud to support the Open to All campaign – so much so that a few of us whooped and punched the air when we heard about it in the office. Spearheaded by Children England and the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), Open to All encourages charities to only ask for a degree when completely necessary for a role.

Thousands of people work in this sector who are fantastic at their jobs and don’t have degrees, from administrators to Chief Executives. As a sector we should be leading the way in recruiting as openly and inclusively as possible.

At Leap, we have seen how removing the filter of higher education for roles has allowed us to uncover new talent. Reece’s story below is one which proves how his expertise, built on both lived and professional experience, allowed us to make the best decisions for our finance team and our work. Reece has now progressed to a management position in another organisation but he remains a role model for not only for young people but all of our personnel, and is a true example of what can be achieved across our sector.

Find out more about Open to All here.

Reece Dixon, Young Lambeth Cooperative (formerly Leap Confronting Conflict)

After taking part in Leap’s training, Reece started volunteering for us in 2012, supporting our financial administration. He excelled as a volunteer and was offered a position as our Finance and Operations Assistant. He gained qualifications and progressed to become our Finance Officer. Reece has now joined Young Lambeth Co-op as their Finance Manager.

What motivated you to look for a job in the charity sector in the first place?

I gained 6 months voluntary experience in the sector and was offered a 1 year apprenticeship on the back of it. I wanted to get involved in the sector to gain experience, develop skills and expertise in accounting and financial management but also I had the belief that it was this sector that addressed some key issues affecting young people. Finally, by becoming employed I was able to provide my son with some stability that I craved for him.

Any specific reasons for not doing a degree?

After getting kicked out of Richmond upon Thames College in 2009, formal education didn't feel like it was for me. It was solely my fault as to why I was excluded, however this contributed to the feeling that the education system just wasn’t for me. In addition, the costs of going to uni were a deterrent, as was the fact that I knew people who had been and still did not secure jobs afterwards.

What was your first job and what did you bring to it / how did you get it?

My first job was as the Finance and Office Assistant at Leap Confronting Conflict. I was interviewed for the role after I had volunteered for 6 months. My voluntary experience aided the opportunity and without it, I wouldn't have had the knowledge, skills and experience to take it on. I brought a 'freshness' to the organisation, a youthfulness and knowledge and experience of key social issues affecting young people. I was also able to work with people at all levels of the organisation. I bought a passion for improving the life chances of the disadvantaged young people and acting as a role model for them.

Any particular milestones, successes etc along the way to where you are now?

I have attained AAT Level 2 & 3 in the years I worked at Leap. Some key success were leading on the annual audit, leading on compliance reviews, migrating all payroll data to a new supplier, migration of data and implementation of a new I.T system, co-ordination of interviews and supporting the recruitment process. As a result of these successes and experiences I have started a new role as the Finance Manager of Young Lambeth Co-op. 

What would you say to someone hoping for a job in the sector who doesn’t have a degree, and what do you look for when recruiting, training, supporting staff?

To someone hoping to find a job in the sector without a degree I would say not to make it deter them. I would say I have managed to make great career progress without a degree and you can do the same. It demonstrates that a degree isn’t essential in an individual being able to do a particular role competently. It’s all down to the individual and the organisation. How much is the individual prepared to develop knowledge and ‘know-how’ in a particular field and how much support, resources and guidance is an organisation prepared to invest in someone.

I would say that I've seen people with degrees lack practical experience and know-how and I’ve seen people without degrees excel.

I believe that my journey with Leap is the epitome of what organisations can achieve in conjunction with young people if young people are given opportunities, meaningful roles and provided with the required resources to enable them to flourish in the workplace. Obviously, there’s an onus on the individual to do their part as well.

Whilst I wouldn't try to convince anyone that university was the wrong road to take, (as I believe strongly in continuing personal/professional development), I would emphasise that gaining practical experience is as important if not more – particularly in the voluntary sector.

From my experience, when recruiting staff I pay particular attention to the applicant’s skills and experience to date, their passion and how they communicate this. In terms of training and supporting staff I would hope to identify any key skills gaps that, if addressed, would increase someone’s knowledge and experience to enable them to develop, but also improve the organisation’s efficiency and impact.

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