COMPANY HAS ‘LISTENED’ – BUT REFUSES TO APOLOGISE TO GRADUATES AFFECTED

* Update, 15 May 2022: We’re in the Sunday Times! Graduates hit by stinging ‘exit fees’ from recruiters (Don’t subscribe? Click here) *

One of the UK’s biggest recruitment and training companies has announced it is scrapping exit fees – in a huge victory for Graduate Fog’s Stop Exit Fees Now campaign.

QA Limited – also known as QA Consulting – says it has ‘listened’ and ‘realised’ that exit fees ‘can stand in the way of social mobility’. However, when questioned by Graduate Fog, a QA spokesperson refused to apologise to the graduates who have been negatively impacted by the firm’s harsh exit fees policy over the years.

Historic contracts seen by Graduate Fog reveal that graduates have been asked to pay up to £12,000 for 12 weeks of training if they left QA in less than two years. Graduates consistently disputed that the training is worth the sum being charged, and pointed out that such a large payment is unaffordable as their annual salary is just £23,500.

It remains unclear whether former employees who paid the fees when they left QA will be able to reclaim them from the company now. QA is thought to have hired more than 120 graduates annually for the past few years, on contracts that included a requirement to pay exit fees upon their departure.

Meanwhile, a graduate who says he suffered from serious anxiety and feared he would become bankrupt as a result of leaving QA, has told Graduate Fog he is sceptical about the company’s apparent attack of conscience.

What has QA said?

Although QA’s statement (below) suggests that their senior management experienced some sort of spiritual epiphany that exit fees may not be a great thing for everyone (!), critics suspect the main reason behind QA’s decision to scrap exit fees is likely to be commercial.

Graduate Fog understands that Friday’s announcement resulted from growing pressure from QA’s clients, who were angry and embarrassed about being associated with the company, given the controversy around exit fees and the noise being generated by Graduate Fog’s campaign to Stop Exit Fees Now.

QA’s clients include 5,000 big British employers, including Santander, Aviva, IBM, the Home Office, HM Revenue and Customs, BAE Systems, Nationwide, British Airways, Royal Mail, Specsavers, PwC, the Department for Education, and many more. Not all of these clients will have used graduates employed under exit fees contracts (QA offers a range of services), but some may have done.

Here is the statement posted on QA’s website on Friday:

What reaction has there been?

Undoubtedly, this is a significant development for the campaign to Stop Exit Fees Now – and it will be especially welcome news to graduates currently trapped at QA. (If this is you, please get in touch. What have you been told about this change – and how has it landed with the graduates affected?)

However, although QA seems keen to draw a line under the past and move on, it may not be easy for those graduates who have been harmed by their exit fees policy in recent years to forgive and forget. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the contracts that QA has been asking people to sign, often straight out of university, and desperate for a job:

One former QA graduate told Graduate Fog that the news had brought back unpleasant memories of his time with the company, and he is not convinced that the company had only recently realised how toxic their exit fees policy had been for their graduates, for years. He told us:

‘I’m disgusted to see QA patting themselves on the back as they announce they are no longer charging exit fees. It is frustrating to see them masquerading as champions of social mobility.

‘I am one of thousands of graduates who worked for QA under a contract including an agreement to pay large exit fees if we left in less than two years. I signed up with QA when I was 21, and the experience left me completely shattered in every sense.

‘They told me I would owe £12,000 if I left, to cover 12 weeks of training. That was completely unaffordable as QA only offered their graduates a stipend of £600 a month which barely covers the cost of a bedroom in the centre of Manchester, where they expected you to be onsite for 40 hours a week. I regularly found myself having to use my overdraft for food running the risk of further indebting myself.

‘Added to this, at one point I thought I was going to be sent on a placement 250 miles away from my family and friends, thanks to QA’s insistence that graduates must be geographically flexible.

‘I became highly anxious at work, and obsessed with impending financial ruin if I left, or the end of my relationship if I had to move. At such a young age, I found myself needing to consult with a solicitor to discuss the possibility of being bankrupted by this hugely profitable company. I am from a working class background and was one of the first in my family to graduate from university. It was truly terrifying, and a dreadful start to my working life.

‘In my opinion this company was well aware of the cruel impact of their exit fees policy, especially on those of us without rich parents to bail us out. Looking back, it is horrifying that QA’s services were being used by supposedly reputable companies like Unilever, Marks & Spencer and Santander. What happened to us graduates was so clearly wrong, and I find it hard to believe that the clients didn’t know what was going on.

‘This happened several years ago, yet these anxieties still follow me in my career today. This is not a time for celebration for QA, this is one of many skeletons coming out of the closet.’

‘IS THAT IT?’ Graduate Fog’s founder Tanya de Grunwald says QA’s statement falls short of what graduates deserve, and wants an apology for the suffering caused by exit fees

What is Graduate Fog’s position?

Graduate Fog’s founder Tanya de Grunwald also feels conflicted about the news, saying:

‘This is a major victory for Graduate Fog’s Stop Exit Fees Now campaign, and it shows that pressure from clients and the wider graduate recruitment world is the only way to force companies like QA to change their ways. I look forward to the day when I hear that FDM Group, Sparta Global, Kubrick Group, Revolent, Ten10 and Geeks Limited have done the same. 

‘I’d also like to say a big thank you to all the clients of QA who have stepped up for young people. It is immensely powerful when you pile on the pressure for suppliers to change their ways, if they want to continue working for you. Please keep doing it with the other exit fees firms we’ve highlighted, until we get rid of this toxic practice completely, forever.

‘However, I feel that QA’s statement leaves a lot of unanswered questions about how and why this decision was made. And the most notable thing that’s missing is an apology to all the graduates who have been negatively impacted by QA’s exit fees policy over the years. In the last four years I have listened to hundreds of graduates describing how stressful and traumatising it is to feel trapped in a job you are desperate to leave and that you might be chased for huge sums of money that you don’t have. Many of those people have experienced mental and physical health symptoms as a result. Yet QA has failed to acknowledge the damage they caused, let alone say they are sorry for it.’

Yesterday, de Grunwald sent the following email to QA:

To: QA Ltd Press Office
From: Graduate Fog

Hi,

I note with interest the announcement that QA Ltd will no longer be charging exit fees to its graduate consultants.

While I appreciate the move – and the statement on your website is helpful – I believe there are still important questions to be answered:

  1. How many current QA employees will be affected by this change? How has this news been communicated to the employees who will be affected by this change? Have new contracts been provided?
  2. What are the ‘exceptional’ circumstances’ you mention, in which exit fees will still be due?
  3. You mention that ‘our communities’ have been instrumental in helping you to make this decision. Can you specify who these ‘communities’ are, and what their feedback was?
  4. During the time when QA employed graduates under contracts that included exit fees, were QA’s clients aware of the restrictions that these graduates were working under?
  5. Graduate Fog understands that a number of QA clients were deeply concerned by the heat generated by our Stop Exit Fees Now campaign. Can you confirm that pressure from them was a contributing factor to QA’s decision to drop exit fees?
  6. Your website states that QA has ‘realised’ that ‘in some instances exit fees can stand in the way of social mobility’. Are you seriously saying that QA was unaware that these exit fees contracts were problematic until very recently? What would you say to those who view your decision to scrap exit fees as a desperate attempt to hang on to your clients and restore your reputation, now the heat has become insufferable?
  7. How many employees has QA employed under contracts including exit fees clauses, over the years? Will QA apologise for the distress (including mental and physical health impacts) caused to these individuals?
  8. In light of QA’s change in policy on exit fees, and the admission that exit fees can stand in the way of social mobility, does QA plan to repay any exit fees to former QA employees who paid up when they left QA? If so, how can these employees claim what they are owed by you?

We received the following response from a QA spokesperson:

To: Graduate Fog

From: QA Press office

Many thanks for your email. We have nothing further to add to our statement issued last week confirming we will not be charging exit fees moving forward. The full statement can be viewed here:

https://www.qa.com/about-qa/news/qa-scraps-repayment-exit-fees-for-qa-talent-roles/

Best wishes,

What next?

So, there you have it: a significant victory for the campaign to Stop Exit Fees Now – but has QA gone far enough? Don’t their graduates deserve more, after everything they have suffered? And will the other exit fees firms – namely FDM Group, Sparta Global, Kubrick Group, Ten10, Revolent and Geeks Limited – follow QA’s lead and ditch exit fees too? Graduate Fog plans to keep piling on the pressure, until they do…

* WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF QA’S STATEMENT?
Are they sorry – or just sorry they got caught? If you’re at QA now, how has the news been communicated? And if you left and paid their exit fees, do you plan to ask for them back now? Have your say, below – or contact us privately

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