Last week Personnel Today reported that PwC is launching a new graduate assessment route with less reliance on degrees. In effect this is PwC stating that they will cease to be seeking only those with top degrees. About time too in my view.

Some years back when I was a partner at BDO I offered a cost-cutting suggestion that was roundly dismissed by the then powers that be. I had noted how much time and money was devoted to graduate recruitment. The aim then was to persuade top graduates to choose a career with BDO rather than one with the Big 5 or 6 firms (as they then were). This exercise was costly and often disappointing as applicants frequently chose to accept offers from the bigger firms over the offers they received from BDO.

I was conscious that many of the partners in the firm had only ever worked for BDO (Stoy Hayward as it then was).  It seemed to me that the graduate recruitment process was predicated on the idea that the best recruits would continue to want or could be persuaded to stay at the firm post qualification. And that all future partners would thus be home grown.

I offered the view that, “these days” the best people often chose to switch firms after they qualified. Those in smaller firms often wanted the experience of working for larger firms. Those in the (now) Big 4 want the experience of working for smaller but still ‘large’ firms. I also noted that as the firm grew so would it’s need to recruit expert partners who had trained and worked in other firms.

I suggested that we should focus our time and money on seeking to attract the best qualified accountants rather than the ‘best’ trainees.  This would reduce graduate recruitment costs and would free up resources to recruit potential partners of the future only after they had qualified.

But for the recession and the consequent reduction in job opportunities for newly qualified accountants I am sure that the pressure to move post qualification would be just as strong now as it was 12 years ago.

I applaud PwC’s move to widen its net although I sense from their press comment that the change is not as big as it seems. But it is a sign of the times.

I predict that the profession will reduce its intake of graduates into trainee positions in the coming years. Increased automation means that many compliance related services will no longer appeal to graduates (if they ever did). And audit work is largely drying up at the smaller end of the market. Most importantly, firms looking to reduce their costs will not want to engage new graduates to perform ever more basic tasks. These will increasingly be performed by non-graduates. In effect graduates will become too expensive to be accountancy trainees in the conventional sense.

What do you think?