Trainee numbers drop at Top 75 accountancy firms

Trainees numbers are down at the Top 75 accounting firms despite rising fee income, signalling the first slide in numbers since the fallout from the crash a decade ago

According to the exclusive Accountancy Daily annual Top 75 trainees survey, there are now 19,700 aspiring accountants on the books of the Top 75 firms but despite rising fee income, this year’s total is down 1% from 19,887 year on year.

As with revenue share, the Big Four firms - Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC - dominate the market with nearly two-thirds (63%) of all trainees. Even at these powerhouses of the accounting world numbers are down to 12,535, from 12,884 in a year.

While numbers may be showing the first signs of a contraction, the overall number of trainees has escalated in recent years, growing by more than a third since the 2011 trainee survey, the first to pick up post-2008 crash numbers. In 2011, there were 12,137 trainees compared with today’s 19,700. 

The largest Big Four trainer is KPMG, while PwC has pulled back on its trainee scheme in the last year, with numbers cut by 25%.

The question of improving trainee diversity and opening up opportunities for the broadest range of candidates is critical for firms, with a move to scale up apprenticeship programmes and reach out to a much wider audience.

For the first time this year, Accountancy Daily collected data on apprentice numbers, which have hit 7,000, with four in 10 hired and being trained outside the Big Four.

‘Graduates still make up the lion’s share of our new recruits, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot change the diversity of our trainees,’ says Simon Stephens, head of people and purpose at Deloitte.

‘But we are targeting direct school leavers through a variety of programmes, and we are now seeing some move into senior leadership roles where they are flourishing.’

Deloitte recruits from a wide range of backgrounds and courses, says Stephens, but above all, it is looking for individuals with the potential and ability to develop and cope with change.’

Essential reading: Top 75 Firms Survey 2020 – analysis and league tables

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