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A-level grade inflation causes recruitment headaches

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Without real exam results, recruitment is going to be even trickier. Philip Fisher suggests a fresh approach to evaluating prospective new trainees.

2nd Sep 2021
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In recent years, rather than exclusively recruiting graduates as trainees, many more firms of accountants have been taking on aspiring members of professional staff immediately after A-levels.

This can be a win-win situation. The teenagers save the cost of university at the same time as earning a salary that will make their more studious friends jealous.

Employers get cheap labour and, if they choose well, talented workers filled with enthusiasm. In addition, for those businesses that qualify for apprenticeship funding, there are government subsidies to take the costs down even further.

Of course, this strategy can go wrong. Inevitably, there will be occasions when you pick what looks like a good candidate and then discover that they are more interested in sleep than work or just don’t have what it takes.

Such disasters can be costly but are always going to happen with recruits at any level – even partners. The key is to reduce the chances of that happening as much as possible.

Hardly passing with flying colours

As with so many other aspects of (professional) life, the advent of the pandemic has thrown a spanner into the works.

Now that almost anyone that we might wish to recruit will have a full hand of A and A* results at A Level, how can one pick and choose the perfect recruit with any confidence?

All you can really know is that the putative geniuses did not annoy their teachers to any great extent. That is hardly the same as passing relatively tough exams with flying colours.

It gets even worse when you try to compare students from different cohorts. The 2019 brigade took real exams that were marked on a historical basis. 2020’s group were slaughtered by algorithm and then rescued by teachers (though Gavin Williamson would like to believe that he had a hand in the rescue, if not the original debacle), while the current bunch were entirely at the mercy of teachers.

Even worse, few would argue with the contention that those lucky enough to attend public schools were on average treated far more generously that their rivals in the state system. They may be cleverer or just had far more teaching but how do we know?

There is every chance that whatever action Williamson (or his successor?) takes to alleviate the problem will lead to inconsistencies for several more years as well. This will then inevitably begin to bleed into university performance.

Recruitment headaches

The upshot will be a headache for accountants trying to recruit talented youngsters able to do the job, pass challenging exams and then stick around for a few years advancing their careers and our bottom line.

The other criterion that we use to evaluate potential recruits is an interview. However, given the current situation, most of these will probably still be carried out from a distance, making it that much harder to build a rapport or assess individual strengths and weaknesses.

Given the problems in recruiting staff at all levels, the last thing that accountants need is hassle at trainee level so a new approach is required and could easily extend beyond the A Level intake.

A solution?

There is a possible solution. What we need are literate, numerate youngsters who have common sense and do not collapse under pressure.

If public exams have gone by the board, why not create our own? A simple hour-long case study could be used to weed out many weak candidates. From there, traditional methods such as interviews should give us the best chance of finding the stars of the future.

Some may already be doing this but it could be all the rage before too long.

Replies (3)

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
02nd Sep 2021 22:13

Case studies would possibly need to not be accountancy specific if candidates with no education within accountancy were to be sought, however some written tests that would demonstrate literacy, numeracy and especially problem solving ought to be possible.

The old civil service entrance exams took such an approach (to a degree) as partially do SATS in the USA, neither is foolproof as they can both be tutored, however given some of the graduates I have seen over the last few years (and I suspect school leavers are similar) they could well be a better measuring tool than certificates and degrees which in part appear ,to me anyway, to be a little too much impacted by very targeted teaching. (Taught the exam rather than the subject)

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
03rd Sep 2021 09:23

Whilst i have huge sympathy for anyone facing 6th form in the past 2 years which has got to have been the worst time in modern history to do exams (I have a family member and a close friend with a child in this age group) when results all all bunched then there is no delineation of the class from "brightest" to "struggling".

The exams therefore fail in a key purpose of sitting them.

There are also significant doubts about the level of teaching supplied in this period, and if the pupils have actually covered more than very narrow "for the test" teaching which may well mean they are way behind their equivalents of 3 years ago starting at work or uni, despite on paper all being a genius generation.

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By Paul Crowley
03rd Sep 2021 11:04

For past couple of years it really was worth being a teachers' pet even if said person was not a swot

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