May 2015 – Change Practitioner of the Month

Each month we aim to name (and applaud) the person, persons and /or organisation which has surprised us with their bravery in going beyond the norm and proposing or implementing a change to the status quo.

The award for the change practitioner for May 2015 goes to…PwC, for their radical change in how they select their graduate recruits.

For those who do not know, Pricewaterhousecoopers (PwC) is the world’s second largest professional services network, and is one of the “Big Four” auditors, along with Deloitte, EY and KPMG. PwC UK receives 17 applications for every graduate role it advertises, and has also been rated the top graduate employer by the Sunday Times for the past 12 years.

Previously, the firm did not consider any applicants who failed to reach a defined threshold of A-level grades for its graduate programmes. Now, the UK’s biggest graduate employer has announced that it will stop using A-Level grades as a way of selecting graduate recruits, in the hope of targeting a broader range of candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds.

It has long been felt that privileged students who attended private schools have a higher chance of achieving the best grades at A-Level, thus putting their comprehensive school counterparts at a disadvantage. The latter students may be equally as talented but have not achieved the same high level of results due to other extenuating factors, e.g. economic circumstances or the quality of the schools they attend. A study carried out in 2010 showed that private school pupils were three times more likely to score the highest grades, achieving 30% of the total number of A* grades even though their pupils accounted for just 14% of entries. In contrast, comprehensive school pupils achieved 30% of the A* grades with a much larger 43% of entries.

It is this disparity and apparent favouritism to those with more privileged backgrounds that has left PwC frustrated in its efforts to reach a diverse group of candidates and deepen its pool of potential recruits, with 1 in 3 of its graduate recruits having been privately educated. The move to now scrap the focus on A-level results when recruiting for most of its graduate programmes is in recognition of both a candidate’s future potential and the growing realisation that state-educated students regularly outperform their peers from private schools in terms of their final university degree grade, according to an article in The Guardian.

PwC said that the change in recruitment methods would enable the firm to diversify its graduate intake “through broader access to talented young people, who may not have strong historical academic performance at school but have gone on to perform well at university and have all-round proven capabilities”.

The change is also evidence that companies, particularly when recruiting graduates, are increasingly recognising that talent comes in all shapes and sizes, and though academic excellence is still an important criteria for identifying ability, those who do not achieve the required standard for whatever reason can still have confidence that their application will be considered in its entirety. As PwC’s “Head of People”, Gaenor Bagley explains, this change sends out a positive message of hope and aspiration to those who wish to work for PwC. “As a progressive employer, we recognise that talent and potential presents itself in different ways and at different stages in people’s lives….By breaking down social barriers, we will open the door to thousand of students who may have previously thought a graduate role with PwC was out of reach for them”.

Stephen Isherwood from The Association of Graduate Recruiter (AGR) praised the decision by PwC, saying that the move will help in tacking “a barrier to social mobility”. In the same article in The Guardian, Isherwood went on to say that this was “an innovative step by one of the most significant graduate recruiters in the UK. Other graduate employers should follow their lead”.

The change is just as significant for PwC as it is for the thousands of potential candidates it will benefit. PwC itself is a very large organisation, with offices spanning across the globe. With the increasing effect of globalisation as aided by the Internet and other technological advancements, it is becoming easier and more necessary to stay connected with people, clients and businesses on an international level, and cater to all their specific needs. With that challenge brings a need for increased diversity within the workforce, where there is a strong number of employees from different cultures, boasting different experiences, with the ability to speak different languages who can bring new and valuable insights that can help a business to be as multifunctional and all-encompassing as possible. With a broad and exciting diverse workforce, PwC can aim to reach out to a greater number of clients and do business in a better, more efficient way than it has done in the past.

The decision is one which has ultimately come in response to the changes in the global market, and with people and companies becoming more integrated than ever before, it was vital that PwC made this change to its graduate recruitment methods in order to better reflect the needs of today’s market, or risk being left behind.

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