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“Talent is not developed overnight”, so we’re still growing our graduate hiring, says KPMG China’s head of people, performance and culture

Melissa Wu, head of people, performance and culture, KPMG China, talks to us about why the firm is pushing ahead with its graduate recruitment and why a talent shortage is making advisory roles challenging to fill in China.

Growing the grads

KPMG is recruiting 1,700 to 2,000 graduates for 2012, compared with 1,500 for this year. But why is the firm expanding its junior ranks in the current global economic climate?

“Lots of people are worried about the economy, but China still has a lot of growth potential in the long term,” says Wu. “Talent is not developed overnight, so we can’t let temporary economic problems affect our hiring, otherwise we would regret it in a few years when we didn’t have enough people to support our growth.”

China produces a large number of graduates each year but “getting the best ones” is the challenge, according to Wu. KPMG has therefore started to offer “elite internships” to high-performing year-two university students. They attend summer training courses and work for the firm during the busy January-to-March auditing season in years two and three of their studies, before taking full-time jobs at the firm after graduation.

“These people love to see themselves developing ahead of their peers. Some students are even willing to defer graduation by one year in order to fully participate in the elite internship.”

The path to partnership

The firm’s policies to recruit and retain younger talent extend beyond the graduate space. “Generation Y employees need a lot of recognition, and not just on paper – they need to be told face to face that they’re doing well. We have to understand the needs of the younger generation and ensure that their voice is heard.”

KPMG has an “Emerging Leaders” programme which helps top managers and senior managers accelerate their development in order to create a good pipeline of potential future partners. “There is a general shortage of talent, and if you tell the younger generation that ‘you will be a partner in 10-12 years’, that may be too long for some of them.”

On a lighter note, the firm’s “MyLife” programme recognises that accountants work hard, but that today’s generation also wants work-life balance. “We’ve organised many activities, such as wine tasting, family days to Disneyland and Ocean Park, Friday movie nights, and discount offers at fitness clubs.”

China challenges

KPMG is facing stronger competition from local employers in China. “Over the past 10 years, Chinese companies have become bigger, gone global and are considered prestigious to work for. They can compete for talent on an equal footing.”

Out of the firm’s three divisions – audit, tax and advisory – recruiting for advisory is the key challenge in China. “There is a talent shortage. We hire from the consulting firms and also look out for Chinese speakers based overseas. With the current uncertainty in the West, some may be considering a move to Asia and we can present them with good opportunities here.”

“Finding advisory people with the right technical skills and who can speak Chinese is difficult. We are an international firm but we are also a local firm in China. We need our people to have the language skills to serve our Chinese clients.”

One of the ways the firm sources Chinese-speaking professionals is via internal secondments into China. “We have found that there are lots of Chinese speakers in other KPMG offices around the world.”

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