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Big 4 Firms Are Noticing a Sudden Skills Gap in New Hires

shy woman pulling a black sweater over her face

It’s funny, I was just talking about this yesterday to a state society leader, how there’s been talk in recent weeks that offshoring and automation have reduced the “skills gauntlet” interns and new hires go through to learn the tedious details which in turn is making a crop of staff and associates who feel almost left behind compared to their older peers. The pandemic is on that list, too; with new hires of early lockdowns now a few years into their careers, we’re seeing the effect that disruption had on critical early learning. That’s not to say all of them are struggling, moreso it’s like how the fossil record shows signs of mass extinctions due to extreme volcanic activity in that time period. We know something disruptive happened during that time and we are seeing its effects show in young people who transitioned to the next phase of adulthood during the disruption.

Now it seems firms are seeing the skills gap in people who hadn’t quite reached the workforce when the world turned upside down. FT:

Deloitte and PwC are giving extra coaching to their youngest UK staff after noticing recruits whose education was disrupted by lockdowns have weaker teamwork and communication skills than previous cohorts.

Junior employees who spent part of their school or university years isolated from their peers have found it harder to adapt to the work environment, partners at the consulting firms told the Financial Times.

The recruits have less confidence doing basic tasks such as making presentations and speaking up in meetings, they said.

“This means that there is a greater need for employers to provide training on basic professional and working skills, that wasn’t necessary in prior years,” said Jackie Henry, Deloitte’s UK managing partner for people and purpose.

It makes sense. Like the military and Internet hate mobs, teams of like-minded people moving together as one well-oiled machine are what make the whole thing work. A team can make or break your Big 4 experience, you may even find yourself taking them into account before you jump ship. The classes of 2020 and 2021 did not get the same opportunities the rest of us did to work in close quarters with fellow students, a critical life lesson that forms the basis of future cubicle-hopping to get answers from superiors as an intern and later full-time hire.

Ian Elliott, PwC’s UK chief people officer, said it was “understandable that students who missed out on face-to-face activities during Covid may now be stronger in certain fields, such as working independently, and less confident in others”. Some were “less confident” presenting and talking at meetings, collaborating with colleagues and networking, he said.

Many of the younger cohort “have only had minimal or virtual work experience, with less exposure to a corporate environment”, said Henry.

Ian has talked about this group of young people before. In March, he said that PwC was “acutely aware” that lockdowns affected students in many ways. “It would be remiss for us not to look at our approaches … to make sure we … are providing the best support,” he said. At that time, the firm was considering a change in its hiring process to make it less imposing for these candidates though he didn’t elaborate much further than that. PwC utilizes a notoriously difficult recruiting labyrinth to separate the wheat from the chaff, they might have to rehaul it considerably to make sure decent candidates aren’t slipping through the cracks (and many trap doors set up along the way).

It will be interesting to see how firms handle this going forward. Will they have to change up their entire recruiting strategy? Will they bring back face-to-face interviews because everyone is bombing the personability component of video interviews? Will they just crap out a bunch of online learning modules on public speaking and call it a day? We’ll see. In the meantime, people skills are going to be the hottest skill on resumes for the foreseeable future.

One thought on “Big 4 Firms Are Noticing a Sudden Skills Gap in New Hires

  1. “It’s the work in the office experience, stupid!” I wonder why no one is coming out to acknowledge that it was a huge mistake to let not only the experienced workers go work from home, but also the college graduates who need a lot of mentoring.

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