man working on a laptop from his cabin in the woods
Branching out: some firms now allow staff to work abroad for a period of time © Getty Images

Global competition in recruitment since the pandemic has been intense across all industries. And consultancies are no exception. Demand for their services, particularly in technology and sustainability, has been unprecedented. So how are they responding to this need to grow their workforce and retain staff?

An obvious way is to raise pay. Last year, for example, consultancies McKinsey, Bain and Boston Consulting Group offered one of the largest rounds of pay rises for new MBA hires in the US for more than two decades, raising their annual base salaries from $175,000 to between $190,000 and $192,000.

However, “it’s a domino effect”, says Fiona Czerniawska, chief executive of Source Global Research, a consulting sector analyst. If one firm raises pay, they all have to, and there is a danger of an inflation spiral.

Firms say the intense competition for talent in 2022 is easing, but Czerniawska points to continued shortages in areas such as data analytics and sustainability. The focus now is on broadening the value proposition to find and keep the best, and ensuring they are a diverse group. In practice, she says, it can come down to one factor: flexible working.

Paul Terrington, PwC’s head of consulting for the UK, Europe, Middle East and Africa, agrees that flexibility is key in attracting and retaining talent. His firm decided to keep its summer working hours policy, for instance, piloted in June 2021, which allows employees to condense their working hours and finish early on Fridays in June, July and August. It has also implemented schemes to enable international remote working for a period of time, which can particularly help those with family abroad.

Initially, these policies were responses to the pandemic. “We’ve institutionalised them . . . because they were popular,” Terrington says.

PwC also wants to keep staff who may otherwise leave the firm for non-work reasons, such as taking a career break to care for elderly parents. With the flexible work policies on offer, Terrington says people can find ways to work that fit in with these demands without leaving their job. However, there are also ways of taking leave from a role, with clear routes to return and a continued connection with the firm.

Similarly, Deloitte, which plans to expand its UK consulting workforce by 40 per cent by 2027, has implemented a Ways of Working framework to encourage individuals to outline their preferences — such as their ideal working style and what they need for their wellbeing. It also offers the option to work abroad for a period and for employees to take their bank holidays when it suits them.

Alex Hamilton-Baily, head of the legal and professional services practice at recruitment firm Odgers Berndtson, says offering good flexible work policies is helping some smaller firms to compete for the best candidates. “Sometimes, there’s this assumption that everyone wants to work for a tier one firm [but] we’ve seen some of the mid-tier firms being really successful at selling a proposition that is more work-life balance,” he explains.

Firms are also investing in broadening their talent pools. Hamilton-Baily says the lack of suitable candidates to meet demand means firms have been focusing on internal pipelines. For sustainability expertise, for instance, “there’s not really a candidate population there, so they are growing their own centres of excellence. You can’t magic 50,000 ESG consultants out of thin air if you haven’t done this before”.

Creating new entry routes into the profession is important, too. Justine Campbell, managing partner for talent, UK and Ireland at EY, says the firm has opened its first UK Neuro-Diverse Centre of Excellence, in Manchester, to create a supportive working environment for all of its employees. Meanwhile, PwC last year dropped its 2:1 degree requirement for all its undergraduate and graduate roles, internships and placements.

Firms are increasingly allowing employees to take a bespoke approach to their careers in line with personal goals. Lisa Rose, head of HR at Accenture for UK and Ireland, says people are looking for “a much more agile and personalised experience”.

Keith Bevans, partner and head of global consultant recruiting at Bain, agrees. He says competitive pay is important “but, also, what is the mission of the work that you’re doing? What is the learning and development that you’re getting on the job and what are you doing from a career progression standpoint?” Different candidates might want more or less of these, he adds, “but you do have to be thinking about all of [them]”.

KPMG UK says it has developed a “learn for a lifetime” culture, encouraging “career progression opportunities and alternative career pathways, or offering a new challenge”, says Lisa Fernihough, its chief people officer. “Our regular colleague surveys continue to tell us that people want to feel their work is doing some good for society,” she notes.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article