Accountancy trainee numbers hit 19,000 despite slowdown in contracts

Trainee numbers at the Top 75 UK accounting firms are being squeezed despite demand for skilled staff, with the total number of trainees only growing by 2.8% in 2017 compared to an 18% rise in 2016

There are currently more than 19,000 trainees passing through the top 75 accountancy firms in the UK, but that is only a 2.8% increase to 19,120 on last year’s figures of 18,596, suggesting only a modest rate of growth in the coming years, according to exclusive research for the Accountancy Top 75 Firms survey.

On the downside, this indicates a sharp slowdown on last year’s trainee numbers, which saw an 18% rise to 18,590 compared with Accountancy’s 2016 survey when 15,813 went through trainee programmes. There are clearly signs of the start of a slowdown in the recruitment of future accountants.

There are mixed messages coming from the Big Four accounting firms, which are still very much the powerhouse of accountancy training in the UK, employing 12,545 of the 19,120 trainees in the Top 75.

Between them – PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG - account for two thirds of the total trainees at 65.6%, demonstrating their strong grip on the accountancy sector.

But there is a warning for the future; if the modest growth in trainee numbers this year shifts into a decline in future years, this will only add to the skills shortage that recruiters continue to report.

Despite an overall fall in trainee numbers at the largest accounting firm, PwC remained the top recruiter of accountancy trainees with 3,625 on its books, down from a record 3,836 in 2016.

Last year the firm took on more than 1,500 graduates and school leavers, including 151 as higher apprentices. A further 960 students undertook paid work experience and internships.

PwC reported that 55% of its 2017 graduates were hired in roles outside London; up from 60:40 in favour of the capital.

The shift to more regional training contracts has been seen across the top firms. ‘There is plenty of talent in the regions,’ says Karen Young, a director at Hays Accountancy and Finance, adding that the recruiter has been involved in a number of ‘multi-vacancy’ recruitment programmes in Northern Ireland and Birmingham, suggesting a trend towards placing more people around the country rather than in the capital.

Read the full report at Top 75 firms trainee survey 2018: losing the bias

Report by Philip Smith

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