HAS CORPORATE SOCIAL MOBILITY CHAMPION ‘BETRAYED’ THE YOUNG PEOPLE IT CLAIMS TO CARE ABOUT?
* Update, 15 May 2022: We’re in the Sunday Times! Graduates hit by stinging ‘exit fees’ from recruiters (Don’t subscribe? Click here) *
Accountancy firm KPMG has risked its reputation as a champion of social mobility by signing up as a new client of FDM Group, the controversial tech firm which charges graduates up to £15,000 if they quit in less than two years.
Graduate Fog has discovered that a number of FDM graduates have already started working on KPMG’s premises, on confidential tech projects for the firm’s own clients – yet KPMG has appeared to suggest that the details of their employment contract are not their concern.
Let’s remind ourselves that these young people are effectively not free to leave their job without paying up to £15,000 to FDM – a practice which they say is causing misery and hardship. Many so-called ‘FDMers’ have told us heartbreaking stories about how much they regret signing FDM’s contract, and saying they have suffered physical and mental health symptoms as a result of feeling ‘trapped’ in a job they are desperate to leave, but can’t afford to buy their way out of.
The news that KPMG has just started working with FDM is particularly shocking as many of FDM’s other clients have moved to distance themselves from the firm, and two of FDM’s rivals (QA Ltd and Sparta Global) have just axed their exit fees policy, following pressure from our campaign to Stop Exit Fees Now.
It also follows KPMG’s bold and public pledges to be a champion of social mobility within the corporate world. In September 2021, the firm made headlines for becoming the first firm to report their social mobility statistics and make serious improvements to the number of working class people they hire:
Last week the firm won praise for offering its own employees a pay rise of more than £2,000 to help with the rising cost of living. Does the firm’s care for its own employees not extend to the young contractors like those who it hires in from firms like FDM?
What has KPMG said?
When we wrote to KPMG to ask for details of their new relationship with FDM, a spokesperson appeared to shrug off our suggestion that this partnership is a bad fit for a firm that claims to be a champion of social mobility. Instead, the spokesperson appeared to suggest that KPMG bears no responsibility for the behaviour of their newest supplier. This is what they said:
‘We have a small number of FDM Group employees currently in place at KPMG UK, working with our firm for a 6-month period. These individuals are employees of FDM Group and not KPMG UK.
‘These individuals – comprising of those who are ex Forces, people returning to work and graduates – are working on various client engagements but I’m afraid we wouldn’t be able to provide further detail on the nature of the work due to client and personal confidentiality.
‘Mirroring KPMG UK’s own employees, these individuals work across KPMG offices, client sites and from home as part of their usual working week.
‘FDM would be best placed to detail the exit fees their employees would be liable to pay if they wished to leave FDM Group.’
In response to questions about how FDM’s exit fees policy fits with KPMG’s treatment of their own graduates, the spokesperson wrote:
‘At KPMG UK, our own student programmes (excluding apprenticeships) and non-student programme professional qualification contracts do have clawback policies integrated within them. This is to accommodate the reimbursement of fees and costs relating to training. However, we understand that colleagues leave training programmes for a wide range of reasons and we carefully assess the individual’s circumstances before deciding whether or not to ask them to pay the fees for the training they have received.
‘As a firm, we’ve had a major focus on improving social mobility for over a decade. This includes working with our local communities to raise skills and aspirations, challenging our own recruitment and promotion processes and being the first firm to publish comprehensive socio-economic background workforce data in 2016.
‘More recently, and as you mentioned, we set targets to increase the number of senior colleagues from low socio-economic background (29% of UK partners and directors by 2030, currently 23% and 20% respectively). We also voluntarily published our socio-economic pay gaps, with this new data building on our work to improve transparency around pay gap reporting.’
How has this happened – and why is it important?
Tanya de Grunwald, founder of Graduate Fog, said today:
‘It is hugely disappointing to hear that KPMG has signed up as a new client of FDM. Given KPMG’s recent efforts to champion social mobility and diversity within the corporate world. At best, this decision is a weird disconnect. At worst, it is a betrayal of the young people they claim to care about.
‘For months, our Stop Exit Fees Now campaign has raised serious questions about FDM’s conduct, highlighting the ways in which young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to the methods used to hire and retain them.
‘I know plenty of people within KPMG share our concerns about this company. So why has KPMG decided that this is a great time to start working with FDM? I can only imagine that those who objected to this partnership were overruled by others who didn’t share their concerns – when they really should have listened.’
What has FDM said?
We also wrote to FDM, to ask how they thought this was an appropriate partnership:
To: FDM Group Press Office
From: Graduate Fog
Subject: FDM and KPMG
I expect you recognise my name – I am a strong and long-time opponent of FDM’s policy of charging graduates up to £15,000 if they leave your employment in less than two years. I have been working hard to raise awareness about this horrible practice.
I also think your requirement that your employees are obligated to work anywhere they are placed in the UK – often at short notice and with little support – can cause misery, made worse as they are long distances from family and friends.
Overall, I am disturbed by FDM’s apparent lack of concern about the wellbeing of your young employees, and I am worried that there is high potential for tragic consequences.
I understand that FDM has recently started working with KPMG. I had understood that KPMG viewed itself as a champion of social mobility, so this appears to be a catastrophic error of judgement on their part.
I would be grateful if you could answer the following questions, for a blog post that will appear on Graduate Fog tomorrow:
1. How many FDM graduates have been placed at KPMG so far, and how many will be placed at KPMG within the rest of 2022? What projects will these graduates be working on, and will these graduates be based within KPMG’s own premises?
2. If these graduates wish to leave their role at KPMG in less than two years, will exit fees be due to FDM – and how much will these total? When deciding to start working with FDM, were KPMG’s decision-makers aware of the controversy around FDM and exit fees?
3. In recent years, KPMG has self-identified as a champion of social mobility – pledging that a third of its staff will be made up of those from working class backgrounds by 2024, and the firm is currently no2 in the Social Mobility Foundation’s Employer Index 2021. Please can you explain how FDM feels it is appropriate that you supply them with young graduates who are not free to leave their jobs without paying you a large fee to secure their escape?
I look forward to hearing from you,
We will let you know if they reply…
* SHOULD KPMG BE WORKING WITH FDM?
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