FDM REP VANISHES FROM BOARD ROLE AFTER OUTCRY OVER EXIT FEES
Is the tide finally turning against FDM Group?
A senior representative from the controversial IT outsourcing firm has mysteriously disappeared from the Institute of Student Employers’ board of directors, after Graduate Fog raised questions about the firms’ conduct towards young people on their graduate scheme, earlier this year.
Graduates who quit FDM’s programme in less than two years face bills of up to £15,000 when they leave. FDM claims this is to cover the cost of the graduates’ training, yet it is hard to see how such large sums can be justified, for the standard of training that the programme’s participants describe. Lawyers say that exit fees are open to challenge, but as it is rare for cases to make it to court (as the risk is all on the graduates’ shoulders), legal clarity remains out of reach for now.
in the meantime, the stories coming from FDM’s graduates are alarming. The sense of being trapped, or the fear of being chased for money they don’t have, is highly stressful. The graduates we have spoken to say they signed their contract without truly understanding the implication of the so-called ‘exit fees’ clauses, at a time when they were desperate for a job. They believed that FDM were offering a top quality opportunity to work with clients they would otherwise not have access to, including HSBC, BP, Sky and the Department of Work and Pensions.
Graduates from disadvantaged and under-represented groups seem to be the most likely to find FDM’s offer appealing. Sadly, they are also the ones that feel the greatest impact, being unable to buy their way out of the scheme if they change their minds. With this in mind, are FDM’s supposedly impressive diversity stats (46% are from an ethnic minority background, and 44% are the first in their family to attend university) really so impressive? Or is something else going on here?
THE DEAFENING SILENCE
Graduates and campaigners have been sounding the alarm about FDM’s use of exit fees for some time – most notably this website’s founder Tanya de Grunwald, and barrister Jolyon Maugham QC. The Social Mobility Foundation has also voiced ‘deep concern’ about the practice. However, until recently, the graduate recruitment industry has stayed silent, appearing to turn a blind eye to FDM, a well-known employer that regularly appears at the industry conferences, panels and awards evenings.
In June this year, things started to change. When we saw that FDM Group was being given a platform at the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) annual conference, we drew the ISE’s attention to the firm’s policy of charging large exit fees to departing graduates, and questioned whether it was appropriate for them to be allowed to preach about being a great graduate employer. (The session their representative, Kate Croucher, was speaking at was called Finding your future tech talent: Planning for new campus season).
In addition, we asked the ISE to consider removing Croucher (job title: Global Lead Talent Sourcing at FDM Group) from their board of directors – and, while they were at it, removing FDM from the ISE’s membership entirely. After all, the ISE is supposed to champion excellence in the world of student recruitment – so why would they want such a grubby employer in their club? Aren’t they keen to set standards, and take a strong, clear stance on issues that relate to graduate employment practices?
Disappointingly, the ISE failed to respond to our email. And Group GTI – the main sponsor of the ISE’s 2021 conference and the owner of TARGETjobs – was almost as shy about engaging on this issue. A representative simply said:
“We don’t have a press person.”
The overall impression? The UK’s graduate recruitment industry has become very good at shouting about its successes – but very bad at examining its failures.
THE DISAPPEARING WOMAN
It felt like we were shouting into the void – but all was not lost. Privately, several ISE members – all big-name companies – approached us to say they shared our concerns about FDM’s conduct and planned to raise the issue with the ISE.
Then, everything went quiet – until last month, when we spotted that Croucher had vanished from the page on the ISE’s website that lists their board of directors. Further investigation on the Companies House website revealed that Croucher had ‘resigned’ in September 2021:
What happened? We understand that ISE board appointments are typically four years, so Croucher’s stint appears to have been cut short by four months. Graduate Fog’s founder Tanya de Grunwald wrote to the ISE to find out:
From: Graduate Fog
To: Institute of Student Employers
Date: 1 October 2021
Subject: Has FDM been removed from the ISE board?Hi,I hope you’re well.I see that Kate Croucher (Global Lead Talent Sourcing at FDM Group) is no longer listed as being on the ISE’s board of directors, and I would like to ask for a comment about this development. I would be grateful if you would address the following questions:
- Can you confirm that Kate Croucher was removed, or whether she resigned from her role? Whatever the case, what were the circumstances surrounding the decision?
- Although Kate has gone from the board, I see that FDM Group is still a member of the ISE. Will FDM employees still be permitted to speak at future ISE conferences?
- Did the ISE consider removing FDM from your membership entirely, for the same reasons they have left the board? How does the ISE justify its decision to allow FDM to remain a member of the ISE?As you know, I remain extremely concerned about the distress that exit fees policies are causing to participants trapped on graduate programmes that use them, and the stress caused to those who quit and face the terrifying prospect of being chased for huge sums of money they don’t have.Given the ISE’s history as a leader in the graduate recruitment industry, I hope you will be keen for your organisation to stay relevant, by remaining alive to issues like this, and supporting those of us who are determined to create positive change for young people from all backgrounds.I look forward to hearing from you.Kind regards,Tanya
Unfortunately, the ISE have – again – failed to engage. About the latest developments, de Grunwald says:
“I am pleased to see that FDM is no longer represented on the ISE’s board of directors. I believe that Ms Croucher’s appointment gave her employer a level of credibility that it does not deserve, considering the anguish that FDM’s exit fees policy is causing to young people who make the mistake of joining their graduate scheme.
“For as long as distressed FDM graduates continue to contact me, begging for help, I will continue to shout about FDM’s disgraceful conduct and question how this firm has been able to enjoy a reputation as fantastic graduate employer of diverse students when it seems to be quite the opposite. I am grateful to the employers who share my concerns and have offered their support. If the ISE will not show leadership on this issue within our industry, then I will.”
It is not year clear whether FDM will appear at the ISE’s forthcoming diversity and inclusion conference, in November. We will continue to watch this situation closely.