GRADUATE FOG EXCLUSIVE!
- ‘HANNAH’ SAYS IT WAS ‘SICKENING’ TO DISCOVER FORD WERE ‘IN ON IT FROM THE START’
- CLIENTS NEWS UK, B&Q, WPP, COCA-COLA, THE DEPARTMENT FOR TRANSPORT, THE BRITISH RED CROSS, UCL, BAIN, THE CARE QUALITY COMMISSION AND BURBERRY UNDER PRESSURE TO EXPLAIN WHAT THEY KNOW
- REVELATIONS DAMAGE COMPANIES’ ‘EMPLOYER BRAND’ DURING CRUCIAL UNIVERSITY RECRUITMENT SEASON
- ‘I GUESS CLIENTS SEE US AS “ONLY” CONTRACTORS – BUT THEIR CHOICE OF SUPPLIERS SHOULD REFLECT THEIR COMPANY VALUES’ SAYS GRADUATE
- OTHER FIRMS THAT CHARGE EXIT FEES – SUCH AS KUBRICK GROUP – AND THEIR CLIENTS LIKELY TO BE SWEATING AS INDUSTRY BRACES FOR MORE REVELATIONS
- THIS INTERVIEW IS PART 1 OF THIS STORY. PART 2 FOLLOWS SOON – WATCH THIS SPACE!
Ford Motor Company knows that the graduate contractors it hires in from tech outsourcing firm La Fosse are not free to leave unless they pay so-called ‘exit fees’ of up to £15,000, it has been claimed.
According to a former La Fosse employee – placed on-site at the car manufacturer’s Essex HQ for 11 months across 2022 and 2023 – a representative from Ford admitted that La Fosse brags about their controversial lock-in clauses when selling the services of La Fosse Academy training scheme graduates to clients.
In an exclusive interview with Graduate Fog, Hannah (not her real name) said: ‘My manager at Ford told me that La Fosse actively want their clients to know that their Academy graduates can’t quit (as it is a pain if we leave half-way through a client project). Having initially thought Ford didn’t realise we were trapped by the exit fees, it was sickening to discover they knew all along, and that our misery is part of the “sell”. It looks like the clients are in on it from the start.’
Other clients who take La Fosse Academy graduates on placements within their organisation include NewsUK (which owns the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times), the British Red Cross, Kingfisher (which owns B&Q), the Department for Transport, Coca Cola, UCL, the Care Quality Commission and C.Hoare & Co (the UK’s oldest privately-owned bank).
Clients of the recruitment arm of La Fosse include Burberry, Bain Capital, Sky, WPP (which owns ad agencies Ogilvy, Grey and Wunderman Thomspson), Sky Betting & Gaming, the Office for National Statistics, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and 10x Banking.
It has been clear for some time that clients are willing to turn a blind eye to the scandal of exit fees – after all, our ‘Stop Exit Fees Now’ campaign gained national press coverage, across 2021 and 2022: the story was covered in the Sunday Times, the Financial Times, and on the podcast Recruiting Futures, with Matt Alder.
But this is the first time that Graduate Fog has been made aware that one of the firms that charges exit fees uses the result – artificially improved staff retention – as part of their offer, when selling their services to clients. In a word: yuck.
Now, it seems likely that many of the client firms understand exactly what they are buying when they use suppliers like La Fosse – and happily go along with it, because it benefits them. After all, mid-project staff changes cause inconvenience – and we can’t have that…
Here is our blistering interview with Hannah:
Graduate Fog: What is your current situation with Ford and La Fosse?
Hannah: I’ve just left – and they are chasing me for £15,000 that they claim I owe them for my training. I don’t think it’s fair that graduates should have to pay these outrageous fees, so I’m refusing to pay, with support from Tanya de Grunwald at Graduate Fog, and employment law barrister, Simon Cheetham KC. It’s scary, but someone has to take a stand against companies that treat their young people like this.
Wow – how did you get out without paying?
They have been pretty hostile and aggressive – during this ordeal I’ve developed anxiety, depression and high blood pressure. But, taking Simon’s advice, I have kept pushing back, asking for proof that they really invested £15,000 in my training. So far, they have been unable to provide this. And – now that I’m free – I feel 100 times better. I’m determined to challenge them, even if this ends up in court.
Let’s take a step back. Who are you, and how did you end up working for La Fosse and Ford?
I graduated a few years ago with a STEM degree from a top London university. I have minority ethnic heritage and I am the first person in my family to go to secondary school, let alone university. My parents have normal jobs – so I don’t have access to any sort of financial safety net.
How did you hear about La Fosse, and why did the opportunity appeal to you?
I first saw them on a graduate job board and when I investigated further I remember I was impressed by the calibre of their clients, especially Coca Cola and UCL. Their claim to be a diverse employer was also a bonus – being a woman and an ethnic minority, and given my family circumstances. I was keen to work for a company that valued people from different backgrounds.
Was La Fosse as diverse as it promised?
Yes – ethnic minorities were over-represented in my cohort (13 out of 19 were not white British). However, looking back, I wonder whether we were encouraged to apply because of (not in spite of) our background. I’ve heard rumours from multiple sources that La Fosse ‘sells’ their graduates’ diversity to their clients – who may be counting us towards their own diversity stats, in order to boost their own ESG scores, and promote themselves as responsible and inclusive employers. It’s crazy – and pretty gross, when you think about it – that they can do this while using a supplier that locks its workers in with exit fees of £15,000.
What was the recruitment process like?
It started with a phone call from a recruiter, then a logical reasoning test and a final interview which included technical and behavioural questions. One of the interviews was with a lovely woman in her 40s. She was so nice, I felt so safe and reassured. At the time, La Fosse claimed it was ‘guaranteed’ that they would find me a work placement, which added to my sense that this was a good move. I later discovered there were no guarantees whatsoever, and most graduates in my cohort – I’d estimate 70% – were left out of work, without placements.
“By the time I heard about the exit fees, I’d already told my family I’d got the job”
When did you first hear about La Fosse’s exit fees policy?
When they presented the contract to me – by which time I had already told my family I’d got the job. During the training, I understood that the fees were £9,000 if I left within the first two years (I signed a contract that said so), but once I started in my role properly I realised the second contract I had signed said £15,000. La Fosse didn’t offer any additional training so I’m not sure why it jumped by £6,000 like that. When I first saw the £9,000 fees in the contract, I was surprised and concerned, as I’d never come across exit fees before in any graduate programme, but I assumed I’d be happy in the job so wouldn’t need to leave within two years. It didn’t occur to me that there could be anything sinister going on, because of the quality of La Fosse’s clients. Those big-name companies give graduates so much reassurance. I don’t think they realise they play such a big part in what is going on.
“It didn’t occur to me that there could be anything sinister going on, because of the quality of La Fosse’s clients”
What salary were you offered?
Initially, they said £30,000 – which I admit I was impressed by (not that it goes very far in London!). However, it turned out there were quite a few catches. For example, if someone’s placement terminates for any reason – for instance due to layoffs or acquisitions at the client company – our salary is immediately dropped to £20,000. We’re then stuck on this reduced amount for up to three months while La Fosse tries to find us another placement. The other catch was that the £30,000 salary didn’t start until we’d found a placement, and of course we weren’t paid for our five-month (13 week) training period.
Wait – what? You weren’t paid during the training period? For five months?
No, not a penny – and La Fosse behaved as if this was completely normal. Some of us really struggled financially [most of us had evening and weekend jobs] which was extremely stressful. But we were all young and inexperienced, so we didn’t know any different. We thought we were investing in our future, and that better times were around the corner.
“We weren’t paid for the 13-week training period. Some of us really struggled financially – but we thought we were investing in our future”
What was the training like?
Rubbish. Most of my tech training from La Fosse was done by an English teacher who had never even worked in IT and had recently changed careers. Ironically, he’d completed a Masters in Computer Science online that cost £5,000 less than my La Fosse training fee! I was in a hybrid cohort, so most of my training was done in the La Fosse office in Victoria, central London, but the majority of my peers did all their training remotely. Over half the course was online self-learning with no live tutor.
After you completed your training, what happened?
I had interviews with several La Fosse clients including Kingfisher and was thrilled to land a placement at Ford Motor Company, which I saw as a great opportunity to start my career in tech. They offered a salary of £30,000 – a huge relief, as after earning so little during the training period. I was desperate to get started and get paid.
What if a graduate doesn’t find a role with a client?
Our contract includes 13 weeks of training and then an eight-week post-graduation period, which is also unpaid. If a grad doesn’t land a two-year placement during this period, their contract ends and the graduate is no longer associated with La Fosse. On the plus-side, I don’t think they have to pay exit fees.
How did you get on at Ford?
Pretty well. The 11 months of training they gave me was far better than what I’d had from La Fosse – ironic, since now I was being paid to learn. I worked in a team with one other La Fosse graduate, and I liked my manager. I was treated the same as their permanent employees in terms of training opportunities and certifications as a contractor. The only bad thing was that I was mainly working from home – because Ford’s Essex headquarters was a five-hour round trip commute for me.
So, if it was going well, why do you want to leave?
I first tried to hand in my notice back in March 2023 after being unhappy in my role – which wasn’t suited to my skill set – and receiving a better offer from another company who offered me a more technical role, a salary of £40,000 and health benefits. My manager at La Fosse promised to get me a strong counter-offer from Ford, but after three weeks of chasing, it never came. By that time, I’d lost the other job and they recruited someone else. Now I think La Fosse did that deliberately, to keep me. I really wanted that job, so it was hard to forgive them.
Did you keep looking for other jobs after that?
Yes, and recruiters kept approaching me on LinkedIn, telling me that my skills are in demand and I could be doing a better job, and getting a much higher salary. Later in the spring, I received a job offer for a leading tech firm – and this time I was determined not to miss out.
I gather you had some issues with tax, as well?
Yes, La Fosse put me on the wrong tax code, so for several months I was paid £200 less than I should have been, for 10 months. I only discovered this by chance, when I asked my peers, ‘How are you surviving on this salary?’ When I pointed out the error to La Fosse, they were so unhelpful and just told me to contact the tax office to fix it. I spent three months trying to get it amended, to the point where even the HMRC call handler told me, ‘I honestly think you should find a new job.’
“The HMRC call handler told me, ‘I honestly think you should find a new job’”
What happened when you handed in your notice?
I was incredibly stressed and anxious. Initially, they tried to persuade me to stay, and said they’d ask Ford for a counter-offer – but I wasn’t falling for that again. When I made it clear that I was leaving, they became pretty hostile, reminding me that I would owe £15,000 in exit fees. At one point, La Fosse had previously told me that because I’d worked over six months in my present work placement with Ford, the exit fee would be reduced by 25% – because I’ve worked 25% of the two-year tie-in period – but they’ve now reneged on that with no explanation.
Why do they say you owe £15,000?
They claim that is what they invested in my training – but I have said I dispute that. They suggested I pay my debt in monthly instalments of £1,250 – but I refused. Instead, I have asked for proof that they really invested £15,000 in my training. They claimed to have a breakdown ready to share with departing graduates, but it took nearly three weeks for them to send me a table with some random numbers in it. Inexplicably, my training costs seem to total £10,000 – and they have added a £4,500 cost for contracting me out to Ford.
Did you push back?
Yes, I have made clear that from my perspective it is a very long way from proof that they really spent £15,000 on my training. The next move is theirs. I guess they are deciding whether to try and pursue the money from me, or not. I hear that one of their biggest rivals, Kubrick Group (who charge £19,800 exit fees) is known to let departing graduates off with reduced (or even no) fees if they sign a non-disclosure agreement, promising never to say what agreement was reached, but I’m not doing that. La Fosse charge graduates like me out on a day rate, and, by my calculations, I’ve earned them more than double the cost of my training through my client work already. So, it feels ridiculous and unethical that they’re chasing me for money. I don’t think I owe them anything. In fact, they owe me for all the stress and anxiety they’ve caused.
“I don’t think I owe La Fosse anything. In fact they owe me for all the stress and anxiety they’ve caused.”
Has Ford been involved in the conversations about your exit fees?
Not directly, but I was disappointed to discover that my Ford manager knew all about the exit fees. I could tell he was being careful in what he said, but he admitted that La Fosse actively want their clients to know that their graduates can’t quit (as it is a pain if we leave half-way through a client project). Having initially thought Ford didn’t realise we were trapped by the exit fees, it was sickening to discover they knew all along, and that our misery is part of the “sell”. It looks like the clients are in on it from the start.’
Did your Ford manager explain why Ford is happy working with a supplier that locks in its workers like this?
No, he was pretty cagey about that. I am not clear why Ford are okay with their graduate contractors working under these conditions, when they wouldn’t lock in their own graduates like this. I asked him directly: ‘Do Ford graduates have to pay if they want to go to another company?’ He told me, ‘No, they don’t actually.’ I replied, ‘So why do I have to?’ but he didn’t provide an answer. There is definitely a weird disconnect. I guess Ford see us as ‘only’ contractors, so in their minds they are not morally responsible for us. Having said that, if we are considered similar enough to employees to be counted within Ford’s diversity stats, surely they should also bear greater moral responsibility for us. I don’t think they can have it both ways. I don’t think they should be allowed to treat us like employees when it suits them, and contractors when it doesn’t.
“I guess Ford see us as ‘only’ contractors, so in their minds they are not morally responsible for us. But their choice of suppliers should reflect their company values”
What do you think of the clients who ignore the fact that they have a supplier that charges exit fees?
For other graduates stuck in similar contracts, I believe it’s vital to raise awareness and advocate for fair and transparent employment practices. For young people like me this means joining graduate schemes where there isn’t an exit fee policy. For companies, it means not working with suppliers who have an exit fee policy in place for graduates. After all, their choice of suppliers should reflect their company values.
How many other La Fosse graduates are unhappy with their roles and the exit fee policy?
I’m in a WhatsApp group with 60 other La Fosse graduates who are desperate to leave. There is real camaraderie between us, even though we may be angry for different reasons. For example, some say they were rushed or pushed into roles that were never right for them; they feel La Fosse misrepresented the position because the client wanted to fill it fast. Others simply don’t like the client they are with, and they feel La Fosse pretend to care but won’t move them. Others have been ‘on the bench’ – without a placement – for over a year, so they are just languishing, not learning anything or moving forward with their career at all. What they all have in common is that they can’t afford to pay the £15,000 fees to leave, so they are stuck.
How are they feeling?
Many are frustrated, angry and let down by La Fosse. Feeling trapped – and that they brought this on themselves by signing the contract – is a horrible feeling to have, all day, every day. I would describe at least five La Fosse graduates who I know as seriously stressed and anxious. During the worst part, I noticed my hair was falling out.
“I would describe at least five La Fosse Academy graduates who I know as seriously stressed and anxious. During the worst part, I noticed my hair was falling out”
What do you want to happen now?
I want all La Fosse’s clients to read my story and worry that the next graduate to speak to Graduate Fog might be a contractor who has worked on a placement with them – just like I am here talking about Ford. If La Fosse (and Kubrick and the other companies who still use exit fees) keep doing what they are doing, our stories will keep coming. It has become impossible for the clients to claim they don’t know what is happening, with all the coverage there has been about this practice.
And after that?
I want La Fosse to tell me they will stop pursuing me for the money they claim I owe, and I want them (and Kubrick, and all the other horrible firms that do this) to announce that they have scrapped exit fees, and confirm that their graduates are free to leave if they wish.
Do you think that is realistic?
Yes – why not? We know that it worked with FDM Group, Sparta Global and QA Consulting, they all scrapped their exit fees policies as a result of Graduate Fog’s ‘Stop Exit Fees Now’ campaign. I know they won’t do this out of the goodness of their hearts – it will only happen as a result of pressure from clients who are worried about the impact on their own reputation. It’s a shame it has come to this, when there have been so many opportunities for all these companies to do the right thing. I can only assume it is all about money.
“It’s a shame it has come to this, when there have been so many opportunities for all these companies to do the right thing. I can only assume it is all about money.”
What are your hopes for the future?
After this horrible start to working in tech, I’m determined to carve out the career that I’ve worked for. I’m grateful for the support and encouragement I’ve had from other wronged La Fosse graduates, from Tanya at Graduate Fog, Simon the barrister, and from my friends and family. I started my new job three weeks ago, and it feels like a giant weight has lifted from my shoulders. For the first time in a long time, I feel optimistic about my future. I think I’ll continue to feel anxious until La Fosse confirm that I don’t owe the fees, but feel much better now I’m free. I am smiling again.
* HAVE YOU WORKED FOR A FAMOUS CLIENT OF LA FOSSE, KUBRICK OR ANY OF THE OTHER TECH OUTSOURCING FIRMS THAT CHARGE LARGE GRADUATE EXIT FEES? Get in touch to share your story