· Features

L&D case study: Accenture - What you don't learn at college

Accenture tests the leadership potential of graduate recruits with two-year teaching stints in inner-city schools. It provides insights into dealing with difficult people.

The challenge

Spending two years teaching in an inner-city school is not every graduate's idea of fun, but for some it can be a life-changing experience that gives them skills that help prepare them for the workplace. And by teaming up with Teach First, an organisation that selects, trains and places top graduates in challenging schools, companies get the chance to employ such individuals after they have completed their time teaching. Global technology consultancy firm Accenture is one such company. It needs a pool of talented individuals who could one day become leaders of the organisation. It believes that graduates with experience of dealing with difficult school pupils will have greater communication skills than many of those who have come straight out of university.

The programme

Although graduates are recruited either via Accenture or Teach First, they must be interview by both organisations, and must adhere to their recruitment criteria, such as having a 2:1 degree in a business or technical subject. If candidates are successful in their interviews, Accenture agrees a deferred employment contract with them, to start after they have finished their teaching assignment. After a spell of teacher training with Teach First, graduates are placed in a school to teach. During this period, Accenture keeps in touch with them on a regular basis, offering summer work placements and events throughout. If, at the end of the two-year period, the individuals wish to continue teaching, they can turn down the job at Accenture. The Teach First programme is complementary to Accenture's own graduate scheme.

The results

Out of the 400-plus graduates Accenture recruits annually, it employs 10-15 through Teach First. Although it is early days for the programme, Accenture says it is easy to track these graduates' progress against their peer group. Anecdotal evidence shows they are more confident and self-aware and have a stronger drive. And the company has noticed improvements in its employer reputation too, with higher scores on every index measured. The scheme enables the company to give something back to the community, which fits in with its corporate citizenship agenda.

THE HR DIRECTOR'S VIEW - DAN FLINT is HR director at Accenture.

Coming from a family of teachers, Flint knows what a tough job teaching can be. "It's not for everyone. I applaud those who do it," he says. "These are high-calibre graduates who have made a conscious decision to do something different. They learn how to lead groups of difficult people and acquire an insight they wouldn't get in the workplace." But what drives Accenture to partner with Teach First? "We pride ourselves in giving our staff opportunities that no other company does," says Flint. "If they can do this, they can do anything." Isn't the firm worried that, after investing time and money in recruiting, the graduate may like teaching so much they turn down Accenture's job offer? "If they decide to stay in teaching then that's brilliant as it's helping to raise standards in schools. It's about putting something back into the community." But those who do take up a position at Accenture have the kind of leadership skills that are hard to teach in the office. Flint says he would have appreciated this kind of opportunity when he was a graduate.

THE EMPLOYEE'S VIEW - SIMON BLOSSE is a consultant at Accenture, and completed his Teach First training in 2005.

"When I left uni, I wasn't sure of the direction I wanted to go, but I did know I wanted to do something challenging," he recalls. "I was always attracted to teaching, so this was perfect because I wasn't limiting myself to it." But it was tough at times. "The first year was exhausting," he says. "I went straight into the classroom and had to deal with challenging behaviour. But it became increasingly rewarding as the pupils became more responsive." Having had such a great experience, Blosse had a hard decision to make. "It was tough - I was very tempted to stay in teaching," he admits. "But I get a buzz out of business and so took the big leap." Any regrets? "No. When I walked through Accenture's door I already had a lot I could give," says Blosse. "You learn to think on your feet, and speaking to clients about complex topics is much easier after teaching," he says. "Being able to stand up in a room full of 30 pupils who don't want to be there has definitely given me a head start."