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PwC’s solution to plummeting college enrollment and a dip in qualified job candidates: Investing $2.4 billion in talent strategy

December 6, 2022, 4:15 PM UTC
People strategy illustration
Illustration by Studio Muti

PwC is rethinking its entire people strategy. That’s no easy feat for a global company with almost 328,000 employees in 742 locations operating in 157 countries. 

In May, PwC, the world’s largest professional services firm with $35.4 billion in revenue, committed a whopping $2.4 billion to create a new people strategy for its 65,000 workers in the U.S. The strategy, referred to as My+, aims to improve PwC’s people experience and attract talent as the firm struggles to hire and retain accountants, who have become more elusive in recent years.

The platform’s offerings will focus on four key areas: well-being, total rewards, employee development, and an alumni network for past and present employees. Yolanda Seals-Coffield, PwC’s chief people officer, believes the new strategy will give the company a leg up as employers reimagine the future of work and, in the process, outcompete its rivals in the talent acquisition market. It’s a bet that’s expected to take three years to develop and implement, but Seals-Coffield says it’s imperative in an employee-driven business landscape.

Two billion dollars is a large sum to pour into people strategy, but PwC’s cash infusion speaks to a larger issue accounting firms face: declining college enrollment. Accounting firms rely heavily on college recruiting to fill open positions. That’s hard to do when the share of students pursuing traditional four-year degrees has dwindled, as has the number of students completing the additional year it takes to obtain an accounting degree. 

Enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities has dropped by 3.2% since 2020. And the number of U.S. professionals completing a bachelor’s degree in accounting has steadily declined since 2016, falling from about 56,000 to just over 52,000 graduates, according to the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. In light of this, recruitment and retention have become priority No. 1 for HR leaders in the sector. Seals-Coffield says PwC is already feeling the early pains of the decline, and she knows it will take much more than cushy perks to attract these young workers. 

PwC adopted a “work from anywhere” policy in 2021 for its 40,000 U.S. client service professionals. But competing in the talent market requires the firm to further enhance its people experience companywide, Seals-Coffield says.

Cue the multibillion-dollar bet, which she considers both a digital and cultural transformation. Building a digital talent marketplace is one of the priciest ticket items in the budget allocation, and it’s an investment that graces the wish list of many HR leaders looking to better assess and retain their talent.

The digital marketplace will provide employees with a portal to job opportunities at the firm. What differentiates the platform from former iterations is the tech-enhanced ability for users to match talent with vacant roles based on a proprietary skills taxonomy developed by Seals-Coffield’s team. The goal is to find employees with requisite, transferable qualifications, thus boosting internal mobility and reducing attrition.

Funding for My+ will also go toward building a robust learning platform that allows employees to choose from a slate of skills-based trainings, technical boot camps, professional coaching, and leadership development courses. 

This strategy, Seals-Coffield says, recognizes that younger employees no longer want to climb the linear corporate ladder and, instead, wish to zigzag and try new paths. “We plan to give employees greater agency,” she says. “That requires a different way of deploying and upskilling people and keeping track of their current skills.”

But saying and doing are two different things. That’s why Seals-Coffield has spent the past two months traveling to the firm’s 10 largest offices to answer questions and educate partners and employees about how to take advantage of the programs My+ will offer. She says the main concern from workers is that the strategy will take three years to fully come to fruition, leaving some wondering if the firm will be late to the talent race.

“It’s really difficult to help someone see a vision that won’t fully exist for a little while,” Seals-Coffield admits. “We learned that we need to be systematic and continually connect the dots of how each building block of My+ is a part of the larger [talent] strategy so that it doesn’t look as if it’s a bunch of disjointed pieces coming together.”

PwC plans to measure success in much the same way other companies have over the past few years—through employee engagement feedback collected via surveys and town halls. Seals-Coffield will also analyze metrics on the number of employees using My+ programs, such as boot camp and training enrollment. 

“What we’re trying to do is inspire every single person to stay with this firm, recognizing that there is not a one-size-fits-all way of doing that,” she says.

This article is part of Fortune @ Work: The Return-to-Office Playbook.