James Ashton: Young high-flyers just want to count beans

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The Independent Online

Outlook When I was a student, spending more time scribbling for the university newspaper than leafing through great literary works, PricewaterhouseCoopers was a godsend. The accounting firm always placed with us the largest advert of any recruiter to plug its milk-round days, money that shored up The Chronicle's finances on more than one occasion.

I'm sure it is not exactly what PwC's senior partner Ian Powell had in mind when he talks about investing in young talent. It clearly worked, though. If PwC was a milk-round fixture then, its popularity has taken off in the intervening years.

Mr Powell tells me that his firm had 30,000 applications for 1,200 graduate places this year. So much for being a nation of shopkeepers – it seems thousands of high-flying twentysomethings just want to become bean-counters and consultants. The applicant level has almost doubled since before the recession. Maybe banking as a career option really has lost its allure, but I doubt it. What is clear is that creating a new generation of entrepreneurs isn't happening immediately – at least until they've learnt to do their sums properly.

What PwC and the rest of the Big Four offer is a solid grounding for any business career. Mr Powell estimates there are 40,000 alumni working outside the firm in all sorts of sectors. It makes the reunion dinners far from intimate.

Such an effort on attracting and training the best young talent is not an excuse for maintaining a closed shop for all the blue-chip audit work. But investing so much in graduates – just like extending the office network globally – means they are better placed to serve multinational clients.