AS RIVAL FIRMS AXE EXIT FEES, KUBRICK GETS TOUGH ON £19,800 ‘TRAINING REPAYMENT’
The founder of Graduate Fog says she has seen evidence that one of the last big companies still charging large graduate exit fees to graduates who leave in less than two years has been using heavy-handed tactics to silence them on their way out, so that campaigners, clients and graduates won’t know the truth about what has been going on.
While Kubrick Group’s competitors FDM Group, Sparta Global and QA Ltd have axed exit fees following Graduate Fog’s campaign to Stop Exit Fees Now, Kubrick have not announced any plans to change their policy around exit fees. As a result, 700 graduates are thought to be currently stuck at Kubrick, having been told they will owe up to £19,800 if they leave.
Kubrick claims this sum is to cover their investment in a training course lasting just 15 weeks, but it is difficult to see how such a large sum can be justified considering the length of the course, and the quality of the training that participants describe.
What is the evidence?
Is it not disputed that Kubrick charges up to £19,800 in exit fees – copies of graduates’ contracts have been circulating for months, and one was published on Graduate Fog last year:
What is new today are revelations about how Kubrick appears to have been putting pressure on graduates who are brave enough to try and leave the company, including ‘dark’ emails sent by senior HR personnel at Kubrick.
We had already seen one document which seems to be a form of non-disclosure agreement (NDA), given to a departing graduate who paid his exit fees in full (more on which, below). But de Grunwald now says she has strong reasons to suspect that similar NDAs are being given to those who pay some of the money, or none of the money. In details below, de Grunwald describes how two Kubrick graduates ‘vanished’ after telling her they were re-opening conversations with Kubrick. De Grunwald – who also runs the Good + Fair Employers Club – says:
“This is not how good employers behave. These are the actions of a firm that is desperate to maintain control over employees who hate them, and a scandal that has already unravelled.
“In my opinion, this company is scrambling to make sure that the truth remains hidden from campaigners like me, clients who will be repulsed by this behaviour, and any other Kubrick graduates who are considering leaving. This was never about the money recouped from exit fees. Is all about control.”
What has Kubrick said?
When challenged by Graduate Fog earlier this month, a senior HR spokesperson for Kubrick sent a long and rambling reply, but failed to deny that they have been using NDAs to prevent departing graduates from talking about their experiences of leaving the company. The full – and, frankly, bizarre – exchange between Graduate Fog and Kubrick can be seen at the end of this post, but here is an excerpt:
“We understand that a small number of our colleagues may decide to leave Kubrick for a variety of reasons, and we carefully assess every individual’s circumstances before deciding whether or not to ask them to pay a portion of the costs related to the 15-weeks training they received. We also have a 2-week “cooling off” period in our employment contracts, meaning that any consultant who leaves within the first 2 weeks of training is not required to repay any of the training agreement costs…
“Our consultants have a huge amount of choice on where to start their careers and numerous job offers from other potential employers and we are privileged that they choose Kubrick. We know that our consultants chose to join Kubrick because of the quality of our industry leading training, our reputation as an employer who accelerates individual careers and our removal of the huge financial barriers which are preventing people from entering the data industry…
“We are committed to ensuring that Kubrick remains an employer of choice, to being transparent with our people about our model, to hiring the very best candidates at the start of their careers and removing the social and financial barriers preventing people from entering our industry.”
What are Kubrick’s clients doing?
So far, nothing – except risking their own reputations by continuing to work with this horrible company. But de Grunwald says it is now time for Kubrick’s clients – including Lloyd’s Banking Group, AstraZeneca, Sainsbury’s, Nationwide, Shell, Sky, Credit Suisse and Nomura – to exert pressure on this supplier, and distance themselves from the ‘grubby’ business of exit fees and NDAs. With reference to the emails you can see at the end of this post, de Grunwald said:
“My correspondence with Kubrick has reached the end of the road. This company has made clear that it is doubling down and refusing to axe exit fees. So, it is now up to their clients to ask tough questions and insist that they stop charging exit fees, and release graduates from any NDAs they have signed in relation to the payment, non-payment or part-payment of these fees.
“If I were one of these clients, I’d be running a mile from Kubrick and shouting from the rooftops about how we’d ditched them for being a horrible company. Those who stick with them are effectively saying that they don’t care about any of this, they’re happy to stick with this appalling supplier, and they’re totally fine with these grubby revelations about secret deals and NDAs, as well as the misery caused by the exit fees themselves.”
All the clients listed above have been asked to comment on the allegations about the NDAs. Did they know this was going on? And are they proud to use a supplier that operates like this? So far, we have only heard back from investment banks Credit Suisse and Nomura, who declined to comment, but we are hopeful that some of the others will step up in due course. We’ll keep you updated.
Graduate Fog understands that of the 700 Kubrick graduates currently on placements at client firms including those listed above, 100 are currently at Lloyd’s Banking Group, and another 100 are at AstraZeneca.
How do we know about the secret agreements?
In recent months, Tanya de Grunwald, founder of Graduate Fog, has been in regular contact with a number of graduates who had recently quit Kubrick, and were highly distressed at the prospect of having to pay such huge sums of money. ‘Multiple graduates’ shared ‘various documents’ which, combined, paint a dark and disturbing picture of what has been going on at Kubrick.
However, de Grunwald says two cases in particular stand out – because the graduates suddenly ‘vanished without explanation.’ In both cases, de Grunwald says she is ‘99% sure’ the graduates had reached a settlement with Kubrick, meaning they understood they could not tell anyone what had happened, including her.
Why was this done? De Grunwald suspects the aim is to make sure that current Kubrick graduates who might be considering quitting won’t know that deals can be done – and also so that the truth is kept from Kubrick’s clients, who are likely to be alarmed by the scare tactics being used against vulnerable young employees. This secrecy also prevents them from sharing details with campaigners like herself.
Who are the ‘vanishing’ Kubrick graduates?
THE ONE WHO WE’D INTERVIEWED
One was ‘Tom’ the graduate who told Graduate Fog his heart-breaking story in December 2021. Having been given less than half a day to review his contract, he realised during the training period that the role was not right for him. By this time, he was suffering poor mental health, and paid £14,520 (yes, in one go) to escape Kubrick’s training programme early, after just 10 weeks. Even though he paid the full amount that Kubrick demanded, they still insisted that he signed a non-disclosure agreement, saying he must not discuss the payment with anyone. We posted this letter at the time, but here it is again:
Having reviewed the letter, de Grunwald explained to Tom that she saw no reason to adhere to that, as Kubrick had not given him anything in exchange for his silence. In other words, he had nothing to lose by talking about what had happened. So Tom agreed to be interviewed.
On the same day that the Graduate Fog story was published his story, Tanya helped Tom write to Kubrick, asking for his money back.
What happened next? De Grunwald says the Graduate Fog story effectively re-opened negotiations between Tom and Kubrick, who emailed him after seeing the interview.
For legal reasons, we are not publishing the emails, but these are de Grunwald’s recollections of what she saw:
‘The day the Graduate Fog story broke, Tom showed me an email he’d received from a senior HR professional at Kubrick, inviting him in for a ‘1-1, in confidence conversation’ so they could ‘understand’ his ‘concerns’ in more detail.
‘Taking my advice, he replied saying the Graduate Fog post already clearly outlined his position, and repeating his request that they should repay his money. He also requested that all communication from now on should be done in writing, via email.
‘The HR spokesperson was not happy. I remember they repeated the invitation to meet, and said that if he did not accept this, Kubrick would consider the matter ‘resolved’.
‘As for his request for communication to remain via email, they essentially refused. They referenced the fact that as Tom had already shared information relating to his exit from Kubrick with a third party (me) they had ‘little faith that any email communication would be kept in confidence.’
‘Essentially, the HR spokesperson was saying Kubrick would only continue the conversation if it was done verbally, and if the graduate came to meetings alone.’
De Grunwald said she was concerned that Tom would be vulnerable in that situation. She said there was a chance that Kubrick would offer him some money back, but it would come with strings attached in the form of a non-disclosure agreement:
‘After all, they already had his money. If they were going to give any of it back, they would want something in exchange. At that time, Tom was a loose cannon, telling his story publicly. Buying his silence was the obvious next move.’
Initially, Tom was not keen to reopen the discussions, as he had already said goodbye to the money and was not keen to re-engage with Kubrick in person as he viewed them as bullies and he was not in a good place personally. He said he did not want to sign an NDA because he wanted to be free from this company, and not feel controlled by Kubrick anymore. But a week or two later, he changed his mind. De Grunwald remembers:
‘Understandably, Tom was curious to see what they would offer, and feeling that he had some power gave him some much-needed confidence. So, he told me he was going to reconnect with Kubrick’s HR spokesperson. My last words to him were “Don’t sign an NDA – you don’t need to!” but I think that’s exactly what happened. I have not heard from Tom since, and he is not responding to messages.’
THE ONE WHOSE NEW EMPLOYER OFFERED TO PAY
The second case is crazy. It involves a graduate who left Kubrick just before Christmas 2021. His new employer had offered to pay his exit fees in full – yes, that’s £19,800 – but, astonishingly, Kubrick had refused to accept it. They insisted it must come from his own pocket (although there is nothing in the Kubrick contract that says who must pay the fees when a graduate leaves). De Grunwald remembers:
‘This graduate was really angry about what had happened – as he felt Kubrick was being spiteful in insisting the money came from him rather than his new employer. The saga was also embarrassing him in front of his new employer. He felt they were deliberately making life difficult for him, because he had dared to stand up to them.
‘We kept in touch regularly over a period of three months, when he was highly responsive – in fact, he said he would be keen to do an on-camera TV interview about Kubrick’s oppressive use of exit fees, and their tactics for squeezing money out of departing graduates.
‘However, Kubrick wouldn’t stop bugging him for the money. I assured him that our lawyer would represent him for free, but I could tell the pressure was getting to him.
‘Then, he suddenly went quiet. He stopped responding to messages and I have not heard from him since. I strongly suspect that Kubrick made him an offer along the lines of ‘Okay, if you pay half of what you owe, we’ll leave you alone.’ I remember he was happy with the salary that came with his new job, so he probably decided it was worth just paying up to get Kubrick off his back.’
In both cases, the graduates said the training they received at Kubrick was worth a fraction of what they were charged.
DID THE VANISHING GRADUATES DO THE RIGHT THING – OR TAKE THE EASY WAY OUT?
De Grunwald doesn’t blame Tom or the other graduate for doing what is best for them, saying:
‘I understand why graduates are taking these deals – because the ongoing stress of being chased for huge sums is exhausting and distressing. However, once the graduates sign an NDA, that’s it. If Kubrick finds out they have told anyone (including me) what has happened, Kubrick can say “You broke the deal – now we want the full amount from you.”
‘Unfortunately, the existence of these agreements has made it much harder for campaigners like me to shine a light on what’s going on.
‘That’s why I want to do exactly that, now. Kubrick claim to be proud of their business model and training scheme, and insist they are ‘transparent’. So, why won’t they answer our questions about whether they have been asking departing graduates to sign NDAs which prevent them from telling anyone what they paid (or didn’t pay) in the form of exit fees? Why insist on secrecy when people leave? In my opinion, these are not the actions of a company that is confident it has nothing to hide.’
IMPORTANT NOTE TO KUBRICK’S LEGAL TEAM: Neither of these graduates was bound by an NDA at the time they spoke to Tanya de Grunwald, or when they shared correspondence with her. As stated in the story above, we have not heard from them for several months – so if they signed an agreement with you in that time, they have stuck to it. If Kubrick Group contacts either of these two graduates after reading this blog post, they have been told to contact Graduate Fog immediately. We have legal support on hand, in the form of top employment law barrister Simon Cheetham QC, who will help them on a pro bono basis. Come for us, but don’t come for them.
No love lost: Read the emails between Graduate Fog and Kubrick Group
To: Kubrick Group HR
From: Graduate Fog
Date: 1 June 2022
Subject: Has Kubrick scrapped exit fees yet?
No doubt you have seen the recent press coverage about graduate ‘exit fees’ in the Sunday Times and the Financial Times, and be aware that three of Kubrick’s competitors – FDM Group, Sparta Global and QA Ltd – have all announced that they will no longer charge large exit fees to graduates who leave their jobs in less than two years.
I have several contacts at Kubrick right now, who say there has been no such announcement from Kubrick, and I wanted to confirm that no such change in policy has happened, or is about to be announced.
As I’m sure you know, I feel strongly that the toxic practice of employers charging large exit fees to graduates who leave their role in less than two years has no place in any reputable business operating in the UK today. Kubrick Group charges some of the highest of these fees, at a maximum of £19,800.
In addition to requesting confirmation that Kubrick has not scrapped exit fees, I am writing because I have good reason to suspect that Kubrick Group has reached a number of secret settlements with departing graduates over exit fees in recent months, and I believe it is important that this should be public knowledge. The pattern of your behaviour seems to be:
1. Send the graduates a terrifying letter saying they owe Kubrick Group £19,800 for their training fees, which will be demanded in full without delay.
2. If they lack the means or refuse to pay, suggest a meeting, which you insist they must attend alone.
3. In that meeting, remind them that they signed the contract, and therefore the amount is due in full.
4. Offer them the chance to pay a reduced amount as long as they sign a non-disclosure agreement banning them from speaking to anyone – let alone a journalist – about the settlement.
Needless to say, I think this conduct is utterly shameful.
I will be writing about this on Graduate Fog in the coming few days, so this is your opportunity to respond to the above, or to correct me if anything I have written is incorrect.
Have a lovely weekend,
PS. For reference, I have not spoken to the graduates since they have signed their agreements with you (assuming that is what has happened). However, I have kept detailed notes from all our conversations prior to that point so I am well aware of the details of their cases. I have told them to contact me immediately if they hear from you subsequent to this email. They also know they have access to unlimited legal advice (and, if necessary, representation in court) from Simon Cheetham QC, who will not charge them for his services.
To our surprise, Kubrick replied! But it was a very strange email…
To: Graduate Fog
From: : Kubrick Group HR
Date: 6 June 2022
Thank you for your email last week. Apologies I could not come back sooner but I was off on half term holiday and today is my first day back in the office. Thank you for asking us for our comment. Not all businesses in our sector are the same. A number of your points in your post are incorrect and I’d like to take the opportunity here to outline where Kubrick is different.
At Kubrick, our mission is overcome the digital skills emergency by increasing the size and diversity of the next-generation technology workforce. We hire people from a wide range of non-technical and socio-economic backgrounds and put them through our industry-leading, immersive 15-week internal training programme, which is delivered by our expert training team who have, on average, more than 16+ years’ experience each.
Although this creates a substantial upfront operational cost to Kubrick, there is no cost to our consultants for our training. Instead, we salary them throughout their training period and provide all their IT equipment in order to make our training accessible to everyone, so there is no financial barrier to entry. 97% of our consultants would not have entered the technology industry without the in depth paid training that Kubrick offers them.
We ensure we are very transparent about our model and training agreement and that anyone who wishes to join Kubrick has all the knowledge and information they require before making a decision. We have a clear explanation of our model on our website and every applicant receives a Fact Sheet set out in layman’s terms, detailing our model and training agreement before signing an employment contract. Kubrick applicants and employees are some of the highest quality graduates in the UK and we are transparent about every facet of our business to them from the start of their journey with us.
Demand for Kubrick trained consultants is extremely high and we have many placement options available to our consultants in a range of industries with market leading companies. However, we understand that a small number of our colleagues may decide to leave Kubrick for a variety of reasons, and we carefully assess every individual’s circumstances before deciding whether or not to ask them to pay a portion of the costs related to the 15-weeks training they received. We also have a 2-week “cooling off” period in our employment contracts, meaning that any consultant who leaves within the first 2 weeks of training is not required to repay any of the training agreement costs.
We go to great lengths to ensure we are an employer of choice and we are proud of our positive employee Net Promotor Score, the number of consultants who stay on as year 3 and 4 consultants with us, the 96% of our consultant alumni who are actively engaging with us, our position in the Times 100 Top Graduate Employers, and a recent independent review on the satisfaction of our workforce which reflected well on Kubrick.
In the last 12 months we have had 40,000 applications to join Kubrick and we employ around 2% of them. Our consultants have a huge amount of choice on where to start their careers and numerous job offers from other potential employers and we are privileged that they choose Kubrick. We know that our consultants chose to join Kubrick because of the quality of our industry leading training, our reputation as an employer who accelerates individual careers and our removal of the huge financial barriers which are preventing people from entering the data industry.
We are committed to ensuring that Kubrick remains an employer of choice, to being transparent with our people about our model, to hiring the very best candidates at the start of their careers and removing the social and financial barriers preventing people from entering our industry.
[SENIOR HR SPOKESPERSON]
Is it just us, or did they ignore the most important questions? Tanya wrote back (and yes, she was quite cross!)…
From: Graduate Fog
Date: 6 June 2022
Thanks for your email.
However, I note that you have not addressed my question about whether Kubrick Group plans to scrap its exit fees policy. Instead, you appear to be attempting to justify it. (For the record, I remain astonished that you continue to claim that a 15-week training course can possibly be worth £19,800). With this in mind, I will assume that Kubrick has no plans to scrap its exit fees policy, and is instead choosing to double-down on the company’s horrifying disregard for the wellbeing of its young employees, and to dismiss the distress caused to them by feeling ‘locked in’ by these enormous fees. This is all the more astonishing now that Kubrick is at odds with recent decisions by competitors FDM, Sparta Global and QA Ltd to scrap their exit fees policies.
I also note your failure to address the questions about Kubrick’s use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to silence graduates who leave your employment in less than two years. I will assume this means you have no comment to make on this subject, and are neither confirming nor denying that such heavy-handed tactics are company policy.
As stated previously, my conclusion – having spoken to dozens of distressed Kubrick graduates over the last few years – remains that Kubrick is an appalling company, run by appalling people.
Tanya received no reply, so she sent this yesterday:
From: Graduate Fog
Date: 21 June 2022
As I have not had a response to my email dated 6 June, I can only assume that Kubrick has no further comment to make regarding my questions.
If you would like to add anything to your previous statement, please do so by the end of today.
…but no reply was received.
* STAY TUNED FOR UPDATES
If Kubrick refuse to axe exit fees, this story is bound to run and run, so we will keep you posted…