PwC delays graduate scheme promotions as client demand slows

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PwC is forcing some junior consultants in the UK to spend an extra six months on its graduate scheme because there is not enough work to promote them.

The Big Four firm told nearly 100 graduate employees last week that they would not be eligible for promotion in July in line with normal practice and would instead remain on the graduate scheme until January 2025, firm insiders told the Financial Times.

Staff were told that the decision was taken because of a reduction in business demand, challenging market conditions and headcount pressures facing the firm.

The move affects the graduate intake that joined PwC’s consulting business in autumn 2022. However, it only applies to those who started the scheme in October and November 2022, with those who joined in September of the same year eligible for promotion.

Moving up from the graduate scheme to the senior associate level would mean higher pay.

One person hit by the change said: “None of us can understand the logic they’ve used to choose September grads over us. They might as well have picked our names out of a hat. 

“Partners will purport to care about your development as a graduate but in reality that’s far from the truth. They only care until it affects their pockets.”

The delay in promoting graduates is the latest sign that the Big Four — Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC — are continuing to face challenges into 2024. Last week, Deloitte said it was preparing to cut 100 more jobs, while EY has also shed staff in recent weeks amid a challenging market environment.

Consultancies enjoyed a surge in demand for their services post-pandemic, but have since been hit by rising costs, slower client demand and a glut of employees deciding to remain in their jobs as openings at technology firms and start-ups dwindled.

In November, PwC announced it was planning to cut up to 600 jobs in the UK after the number of staff leaving the firm fell sharply. At the time, the firm’s attrition rate was hovering at 10 per cent, having fallen 5 percentage points in the preceding months.

PwC’s UK partners took home an average of £906,000 in the year to June 2023, down from £1.03mn during the previous year, as profits stagnated. The most recent payout meant that the firm’s partners were the second best paid out of the Big Four, only behind Deloitte.

PwC said: “We’re balancing business demand with our desire to support and train our graduates. A short delay in promotion is clearly disappointing for those affected but allows us to support careers over the longer-term.

“We have recruited over 3,500 graduates and school leavers since September 2022 — the delay applies to 90 graduates in our consulting practice.”

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