In Conversation with Camilla Weeks, Head of Student Recruitment, KPMG
Camilla is now into her seventh year at KPMG and is running the student recruitment team responsible for filling c.1800 graduate, work experience and school leaver vacancies. Jayne, 106’s Early Careers Strategist, and Camilla caught up recently to share their musings post the ISE E,D&I conference. Here’s a snapshot of their conversation…
We’re all facing a pretty uncertain student recruitment market what are the key challenges that you face in attracting school leavers and graduates to your Programmes?
As a sector, Professional Services doesn’t have the advantage of being a household name, such as doctors or lawyers, and this means that we must work hard on awareness raising and educating students about what it is that we actually do. Over the past few years, the appeal of accountancy as a career path has fallen as other routes such as consulting have overtaken; being seen as more “exciting”. But, in reality, the skills required for those early in their careers to be a successful consultant are akin to those required in auditing. We need to focus our messaging on countering preconceptions about the work we do and its importance as well as the longevity and breadth of the career. There is something too, about students questioning the value of professional qualifications in themselves. But it goes without saying, one of the biggest challenges, and therefore focusses, is around diversity and inclusion. The competition for diverse talent is huge and this continues to be central to what we do.
A significant part of your role involves supporting the firm’s widening participation agenda. Why is this so important for a firm like KPMG to put social mobility at the heart of your business?
Yes, I am proud to work for an organisation that is so focussed on diversity, but specifically around social mobility. Here everyone brings a unique perspective to work and we have a role in driving a fairer and equitable society by offering opportunities for employment in disadvantaged communities. We are clear that where you are from should not dictate your life chances. For us as a firm, having more diverse teams has a direct correlation with better business; so the case for a focus on diversity is well understood by KPMG. However, it’s not just about the commercial value to our organisation, it’s the wider societal impact. We know, for example, that there is a link between stronger social mobility to greater economic productivity for the economy, to improved mental health, and to increased life expectancy. Some of the things that we have done here at KPMG include being the first to publish social mobility progression analysis, supporting the development of literacy and numeracy skills across the educational life cycle, and we have recently launched an initiative called Opening Doors to Opportunities which includes a pledge to give one million young people the opportunity to build their skills by 2030. As part of this, KPMG will be opening its doors to younger people from areas of lower social mobility across the UK.
At the recent ISE E,D&I conference it was apparent that many organisations are still not measuring the impact of social mobility. Some of this may come down to the fact that the definitions of social mobility are relatively fragmented. Organisations can start by measuring their internal workforce first to know where their benchmark is and to know where to focus their efforts on social mobility. Ideally the market needs a consistent measure for social mobility because it helps to land the message within our organisations and within the market. If students know that all large recruiters are measuring social mobility in a consistent way, there is a case to say that more students might disclose their socioeconomic background and therefore making it easier for us to identify and to provide the right support.
What has made the biggest impact to KPMG in terms of social mobility?
Our focus on apprenticeship recruitment and providing formal work experience has really helped. It’s been really important to get our colleagues engaged in telling their personal stories of their own social mobility journeys, for example our internal social mobility network, Upbringing, has been hugely active in what we’re doing. And finally we have a great network of suppliers supporting us in our efforts, helping our firm widen access to the profession.
And talking of the recruitment process I recently saw on LinkedIn a post celebrating I return to face to face selection through your award-winning Launch Pad selection event – how did it go?
Yes, it was so great to get back to face to face assessments. Our Launch Pad assessment centres are large scale events, bringing together up to 300 candidates on a day to be assessed, meet our people, and learn about us, and they receive their outcome within two working days. And we know that it works; the energy is amazing and our candidate feedback so far is averaging 9.5 out of 10 – candidates have said they loved it, found it fun and were able to learn a lot about us. At KPMG we work in a hybrid way so why would we not want to reflect this in our recruitment process? But, in actual fact, Launch Pad isn’t just about assessment; with half of the event not being assessed it’s also about educating candidates about who we are and letting students meet our people. It’s that interaction with our people that helps students better understand us, and hopefully make better decisions about working for us. Ultimately, we are a people business and Launch Pad helps us to showcase our people and it’s a huge differentiator. We were very clear though, that we didn’t want Launch Pad being in person to be a barrier, so core to our proposition is that we pay attendees their expenses up front where required. Another big focus for us around Launch Pad is the pre-event preparation with every candidate having a one-to-one call with a recruiter to help them prep for the day. We provide them with a candidate information pack which has lots of videos including things around dress code, for example, we say to candidates that they don’t need to buy new clothes or wear a suit, we want to make it as accessible as possible for everybody. And the investment pays for itself because they come away with a better understanding of who we are and are then making better decisions which we hope will have an impact on long term retention.
You have a big focus on apprenticeship hiring which is a core tenet of your social mobility strategy – what are some of the things that you are grappling with at the moment in terms of Apprenticeship hiring?
I think the first thing is about how to continue to promote apprenticeships as a comparable entry route to a graduate route. We offer apprenticeships at level 3 and level 4 and these apprenticeships drive students to professionally qualified status a full year ahead of those who have done an undergraduate degree followed by their professional qualification. Clearly the benefits of no graduate debt are huge and have a huge impact on those from disadvantaged backgrounds. But, there is a marketing challenge; the talent pool is so much bigger and so much more fragmented than the university market with over 1,000 schools so we rely on the power of influencers to spread our message. This means also focusing around friends, teachers, parents and guardians to really establish a clear point of difference for our apprenticeship programmes.