KPMG in talks over PRIME-style work experience scheme for accountants

KPMG has entered into talks with the founders of the groundbreaking legal social mobility venture PRIME, which could see the big four auditor forge an equivalent model for the accountancy profession.

The company is in early stage discussions with Allen & Overy (A&O), one of the founders of PRIME, about the work experience-focused programme, which was launched by 23 law firms in September 2011 in a bid to increase diversity and access to the legal profession.

The talks have so far focused on sharing knowledge and understanding of the project and are not expected to result in KPMG joining PRIME itself or replicating it precisely. Instead, the accounting firm hopes to adapt it for both its own firm and potentially the wider accountancy profession.

For KPMG, this could mean linking work experience placements more directly with recruitment initiatives as the firm already operates a number of apprenticeship-style school leaver programmes.

Simon CollinsThese include a six-year audit programme, which leads to an accounting degree from one of three leading UK universities with tuition and accommodation paid, in addition to professional accounting qualifications and a salary.

No decisions have been made about what any programme will look like, but KPMG UK chairman Simon Collins (pictured) is set to host an inter-firm roundtable event in early March which will discuss both how to progress the agenda in the accountancy profession and PRIME’s involvement.

The meeting is expected to be attended by former cabinet minister and Government social mobility adviser Alan Milburn.

Milburn has previously lauded the PRIME initiative in a progress report on social mobility in the professions published last May, in which he urged banking and accounting firms to follow the legal sector’s lead.

Interest from the top accountancy firms will be viewed as further evidence of the impact PRIME has had since its launch.

A&O diversity manager Jane Masey told Legal Week: “We have spoken with KPMG about PRIME and I think they’re impressed with it and see that it has some relevance to them, so they want to share ideas and thoughts about it.

“We hoped it might be a blueprint for other professions but, of course, we are all different and it is up to them to decide what they need to do and how they want to achieve it.”

KPMG UK head of corporate affairs Marianne Fallon said: “After seeing the success the legal sector has had in working together to tackle the issue, the accountancy firms are actively seeking to work together.

“It is not simply a case of adapting PRIME for our profession, however – we’d be looking at a slightly different end-point.

“We are looking towards the next step for candidates to take as there needs to be more opportunities for them to join the profession as a result of a work experience placement, as well as looking at other ways for them to enter the apprenticeship track.”

PRIME, which is chaired by A&O senior partner David Morley, now has around 90 law firms in the UK signed up and has also started working with in-house legal teams.

Participating firms commit to providing an annual number of work experience placements equivalent to half their annual trainee intake to disadvantaged school children.

In September 2012, eight in-house teams, including Google, Microsoft, Vodafone, Yahoo! and Lloyds Banking Group, became involved in the scheme by pairing up with law firm advisers.