The big change for PwC came in 2012 when the new higher apprenticeships framework was initiated. PwC and others in the sector were involved with developing the programme and, when it launched, allowed to firm to “overhaul” the opportunities it could give to school and college leavers.
Higher apprenticeships provide a work-based learning programme that leads to a nationally-recognised qualification equating to either a higher education certificate, higher education diploma, foundation degree or even bachelor degree.
PwC brought though 60 individuals in the first year of the programme, and has since steadily grown it so that its last intake was 150.
“They do a very structured training and development programme, gaining professional qualifications by sitting exams,” Awdry explained. “They also do a lot of learning on the job, gaining a portfolio of business skills such as working in teams.”
After the apprentices have completed their programme they merge with the incoming graduate contingent, and are very much viewed as equals with different experiences. Awdry added that apprentices often have more working experience, but noted that, no matter how people join the firm, they all have the same opportunity to develop skills and progress careers.
The difference between today’s higher apprenticeship framework and before is the formal government backing and certified qualification at the end, Awdry said. This, she believes, helps possible candidates make a decision of whether to come in early or go to university – providing “reassurance”.
PwC’s engagement with schools includes visits to conduct sessions, as well as events hosted at the firm’s offices akin to university open days. “We also launched something last year, that we’re very existed about, called our ‘mini internship’,” Awdry explained. “It’s for sixth form students and for Business Insight Week they do work experience with us. We had 70 places last year, and that has gone up 100 this year.”
On top of that, PwC conducts virtual online sessions to cater for those who are not able to come into PwC for open days, or are not on the list of school visits. “This has enabled us to take our message to a younger audience who are receptive to thinking about careers earlier,” she said.
Read more about apprenticeships in the UK:
One 21 year-old who secured a position as a PwC apprentice is Essex-based Ziyad Patel, who had already started studying international business at university before deciding it wasn’t the best route for him.
Patel did not realise there was such a range of apprenticeships available at all levels, and was particularly surprised to find them in areas such as accountancy and consulting. He is now a second-year apprentice in tax and is currently studying for the Association of Taxation Technicians – due to complete in July 2015.
Explaining his move, Patel said: “I never considered the apprenticeship route before starting my degree. However, whilst I was at university I felt I wasn’t getting the value I was paying for. I decided to explore other options and found the apprenticeship at PwC.
“The apprenticeship gives me the opportunity to kick-start my career early. Being able to study for a prestigious professional qualification whilst earning a competitive salary, working at one of the biggest firms in the world, was something too attractive to pass on.”
Another to become an apprentice at PwC is Alistair Franke, who is a higher apprentice in forensic services. Also deciding university wasn’t for him, he spent a year travelling and a year in a corporate working environment before starting with PwC.
Going into the benefits he’s got from the programme, Franke said: “I have sat and passed my first set of accountancy exams, had the opportunity to network and build relationships with a wide range of people across both PwC and outside the firm, I’ve developed personally and professionally and had a really enjoyable time in the process.”
When quizzed on what kind of retention rate PwC has for its higher apprenticeship initiative, Awdry said the first year saw 84 per cent kept on. “We really value them and invest in them, but at the same time there’s no pressure to stay. They are very young when making these decisions, so you need lots of flexibility.”
This flexibility is offered in the form of possible relocation to different offices or countries through secondments.
We then moved on to government support, and Awdry revealed she is “really happy” with the level of assistance shown, and placed emphasis on the engagement with employers in the design process. PwC is one of the “trailblazer” employer-led groups which are taking an active part in directing apprenticeship policy.
“It was a new qualification, so starting from a blank page. The important thing is it combines the development of technical knowledge and expertise, which is needed in our sector, and places emphasis and value on softer skills,” she commented.
Part of Awdry’s role at PwC has been pulling in interest from various parts of the business which are interested in what can be provided from apprenticeships. The key thing for Awdry and her team, she emphasised, is “choice and opportunity”.
By Hunter Ruthven
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