Big business recruiting straight from school



Share this on:

City workers walk across London Bridge on their way to their offices in the financial centre in the City of London
Ready for work? All of the UK’s 'big four' accountancy firms have established degree-equivalent school-leaver training programmes. Photograph: Sang Tan/AP

Some of the UK's biggest employers are looking beyond the traditional graduate jobs market and launching recruitment drives aimed directly at high achieving A-level school leavers, amid concerns about the impact university tuition fees will have on the quality and social mix of graduates entering the workforce.

All of the UK's "big four" accountancy firms – which between them recruit several thousand graduates each year – have established degree-equivalent school-leaver training programmes, with graduate recruitment experts predicting the trend will spread to other industries.

Courses typically offer a five-or six-year structured training programme, with competition for places intense and applicants requiring around 300 Ucas points – the rough equivalent of three A-level grade Bs or more – to qualify.

Privately, large graduate employers fear that tuition fees will deter many brighter students from less affluent backgrounds from going to university, which will in turn impact on their businesses. PricewaterhouseCoopers has run a school leaver programme since 2008, and this year received 1,600 applications for its 100 available places.

"We want to lead the way in opening the door to jobs in business to as many people as possible," said Gaenor Bagley, PwC's head of people. "For us, this is about getting the right people into the right jobs at the right time for our business."

This year the other three big accountancy firms – Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young – have followed suit with similar schemes. Ernst & Young has 60 places for school-leavers on a five-year training programme beginning in September 2012. This represents just under 10% of its total graduate intake, but Stephen Isherwood, Ernst & Young's head of graduate recruitment, said the scheme could be expanded if successful.

"With rising tuition fees and living costs, students are considering their next move after A-levels more carefully than in previous years," Isherwood said. "University is no longer the default; they are looking at all the options available. We hope we can contribute to ensuring that young students, from all social and economic backgrounds, are able to reach their career potential."

Isherwood pointed out that participants would also get a head start with their accountancy careers, qualifying within five years of leaving school, ahead of peers who go to university and then join its three-year graduate training scheme.

Earlier this year Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, forewarned that changes to the higher education system would lead to more companies recruiting school leavers at 18 or younger.

"What employers find attractive is the targeting of young talented people at an early stage, so they can easily mould them into what they want them to be," he said. "There shouldn't just be one model of recruiting bright young talent to top graduate-level jobs."