MCA Survey highlights demand for analytical and digital skills

by Nicola Thomson

Management Consultancies are recruiting significantly less graduates from Oxbridge and Russell Group universities according to a new independent survey conducted for the Management Consultancies Association, only 4% of young consultants were educated at Oxbridge whilst 54% came from Russell Group universities as leading firms seek to diversify their talent pool and compete with tech giants for the best skilled young people. Over the past 8 years the number of young consultants attending Russell Group universities has dropped by a fifth and the number attending Oxbridge has dropped 9 percentage points. The survey, conducted by the market research agency Savanta, found that the industry is becoming more accessible than ever to graduates from all backgrounds.

The skills most in demand from firms for new recruits are data science, technological expertise and analytical and digital skills which are all vital to meet growing client demand for digital and technology focused advisory. Three quarters of respondents believed the consulting industry is better than most sectors at attracting high quality talent, but young consultants said firms needed to offer sociable hours of work and better work life balance, continued professional development as well as competitive salaries to attract the best talent.

The MCA commissioned the market research agency Savanta to conduct a member survey on its behalf to identify the key trends, challenges and opportunities facing the consulting industry.

2018 was a positive year for the industry according to the study, with 90% of consultants saying their business performance had met or exceed expectations and members estimating their consulting activity grew by 5.7% over last 12 months. The two highest growth sectors included Retail and Leisure and Transport. Business transformation, change management and digital and technology consulting were the largest service areas that most consultants were working in according to the report.

The outlook for the industry is positive in 2019 with 9/10 consultants anticipating that their organisation’s consulting activity will increase in the next 12 to 24 months and over a quarter of members believing it will increase greatly. Over 70% of consultants however believe that a general slowdown in the UK economy will impact the industry. Survey respondents noted how clients have been delaying and even cancelling projects as a direct result of Brexit uncertainty with over half of consultants (60%) saying clients have been delaying projects due to Brexit uncertainty and almost a third of consultants (31%) believe clients have been cancelling projects due to Brexit.

Members predict that increased consulting activity will be driven by projects relating to the impact of Brexit and a changing business environment with growth driven by client demand in three key sectors: Digital and Technology, Government and the Public Sector and Financial Services. Larger firms believe they will see more activity in Financial Services and Government and Public sector whereas SMEs are more positive about outlook for consulting in the Manufacturing and Retail and Leisure sectors in the same period.

In terms of future trends likely to have most impact on the industry, consultants said AI, Automation and Cyber security were like to have the most profound impact with the increasing use of these technologies growing across the sector and demanded by businesses in the UK. The biggest internal challenges for firms are increased requirements for flexible working and competing with non-consulting industries for the best talent.

Tamzen Isacsson, Chief Executive of the Management Consultancies Association said “Consultants are highly valued by clients across the UK for bringing in the smartest and best digital talent and helping to transform businesses, deliver tangible results and get better outcomes for firms. Developing top talent is not the privilege of one educational institution and this survey shows entrance to leading management consultancy firms is becoming more accessible than ever. The outlook for the consulting sector is positive this year with firms expecting an uplift in due to Brexit related activity and the constant demand for digital and tech advisory.”

Luke Cummings, Senior Consultant at Savanta, said “The story this research tells is of an industry broadening It’s horizons in order to attract and retain some of the best global talent. Routes into consulting are widening and diversifying, illustrated by a significant decline in Russell Group and Oxbridge graduates. The study reveals an industry in good health, with robust growth predications for the future. However, Brexit is a concern for management consultants, with the impact of a ‘no deal’ Brexit estimated to have an overwhelmingly negative impact on the wider UK economy.”