Simon Haydn-Jones is an Auditor by training and practice, but last summer he was asked to get involved with KPMG’s school-leaver scheme. He revealed to us why now’s the time for this programme and how it will change the industry forever.
KPMG’s school-leaver scheme has left the conventional mould of how a degree leads to a job smashed to pieces. They’ve combined a degree, work experience and a professional qualification into one, thrown in a year of full time, on-campus study and then offered to pay 75 students and graduates for the whole thing.
But how will this scheme, which begins its pilot run this summer, change things for existing graduates and for their prospects with other firms in the industry?
The original idea was to try to combine a university qualification with a professional qualification,” Explains Simon Haydn-Jones. “We always thought that the most innovative thing we could do in that space was to have students employed by us from day one. The only way that would have worked would be for us to pay for it and have it structured in such a way as to make it absolutely compelling for someone to be involved in.”
But why pay students to study? It’s likely lots of them would do it anyway and this way the company has to back their horses from the off. “The last thing that we want is people coming on to the scheme and hating it or completing a qualification with us over a six year period and then leaving. It’s completely in our interests to make this an exciting scheme and that’s what motivated us to pay for the tuition fees and meet the costs of this part of higher education.”
It’s certainly a bold move, at a time when most companies are enjoying the benefits of having more graduates than jobs, and the opportunity to pick and choose who they hire.
“The motivation behind the scheme is change,” counters Simon, “one of the things we’re always challenging people to come up with is new ideas about the way we do business and this idea does that.”
“Statistics show that graduate employment at the moment is at its lowest level for 15-16 years. So last summer we spoke to a large number of students with the proposition of this scheme and asked them what they thought of it. Funnily enough, a huge amount of detail of the scheme has been shaped by what people told us last summer.”
He describes this as a win-win; the company gets trainees early on and the graduates get to avoid those crippling student debts. But aren’t KPMG worried about alienating or losing out on the graduate talent out there?
“Like all the big four, in the past we’ve recruited mainly graduates and graduates will remain a very important part of our recruitment strategy.” KPMG aren’t, he stresses, looking to stop recruiting graduates. Rather they want to add to them “If we got to a position of having 100% of our uptake being school-leavers on our accountancy degree, that isn’t right, equally if we don’t have school-leavers that’s not right either.”
Despite the name, the scheme isn’t restricted to school-leavers and Simon fully expects existing graduates to take advantage of it. “The scheme is open to absolutely everybody. We haven’t got the critical mass to make the scheme different for people with a degree or different joining qualifications.”
“If you want to come on to our scheme, you join with everybody else and it’s exactly the same whether you’ve a year or a full three years at university or not. The only requirements are that you pass the interview and that you have an A and two Bs at A-level and you must have GCSE Maths and English at grade B minimum. This is definitely not just restricted to year thirteen school leavers.”
The specifics of the scheme are that it takes six years, in which the students will get a degree, have a full year on campus living university life and become a chartered accountant. Hopefully at this point they’ll start working for KPMG with no pesky student loans in the bank. All of which seems a fantastic deal for the budding accountant, but Simon is clear that this isn’t charity, “Students on the course will work for us in periods. This will be challenging and so we want people to go into it with their eyes open. They’ll be balancing work experience with periods of studying at university and periods of studying for their professional qualification.”
Critics of what KPMG are offering might well point at the dubiousness of a company offering a degree. What, after all, does KPMG know about teaching methods or academic standards?
“We absolutely don’t purport to be experts in designing courses, but we do recruit thousands of people each year for training contracts,” Simon argues. “You could say we’re experts in managing a student population who’s studying. But we’ve enlisted the help of a top university and one of the major accountancy bodies, the ICAEW, to design the course without making any compromises.”
“Durham University have worked hard with us to offer something that’s as robust as any other degree they offer and we’ve not made any compromises on the quality of the education. The number of credits will be the same, the nature and the breadth of the qualification will be the same. It’s just that it’s structured slightly differently.”
The scheme certainly looks to be an interesting experiment. Simon acknowledges that the first year will probably teach the organisers as much as the graduates. Regardless of the uncertainties, however, he believes that this scheme will encourage more like it and that will fundamentally redefine the face of the graduate job.
“I genuinely believe we’ve got something here that could change the world. And I hope that others follow because this will help preserve higher education for all.”