School of Cultural Studies and Humanities

Students explore the WW2 history of multinational consultancy firm

Second year students from across the School of Cultural Studies and Humanities work with industry partners on live briefs as part of their ‘Applied Humanities’ module, enabling them to develop a range of practical employability skills.
The Headrow, Leeds, 1944 (© Leeds Library and Information Service, Leeds City Council)

Earlier this year, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), invited History and English students to their headquarters in Leeds to discuss the role PwC employees had during the Second World War. There were over 40 fatalities linked to the predecessor firms to PwC, and the company wanted to enlist the help of Leeds Beckett students to help bring their stories to life.

The School of Cultural Studies and Humanities has a long-standing relationship with PwC, a multinational consultancy firm. In previous years students worked with PwC on a WW1 project entitled ‘Mr Squirrell’s Boys’, which commemorated the nine men of Cooper Brothers who died during the conflict. PwC archivist, Ben Sharratt said: “Given the fruitful relationship PwC enjoyed with Leeds Beckett University in 2017/18 with regard to the WW1 project - 'Mr Squirrell's Boys' - we were keen to repeat the exercise with the students and lecturers to produce a body of work examining the impact of World War 2”. 

PwC Offices, Central Square, Leeds

PwC Offices, Central Square, Leeds

History student Ben Campey chose to examine the contribution of the numerous Quaker employees to the war effort and how their pacifist religion shaped their roles. Ben researched the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU), looked at Vera Brittain’s work on pacifism and produced a biography of PwC employee Alan Russell Dickinson. 

With access to PwC’s vast archives, Ben investigated the life and death of Alan Russell Dickinson, a trainee accountant for PwC who was captured in 1941 in Greece after volunteering with FAU. As a prisoner of war, Alan continued to study for his exams but sadly died in 1943 before he was ever able to take them. 
Friends Ambulance Unit ambulance driver, with his vehicle in Wolfsburg, German

A Friends Ambulance Unit ambulance driver, with his vehicle in Wolfsburg, German

Commenting on working on a live brief for PwC, Ben said: “The most important thing that this project has taught me about research is without a doubt to not hesitate in talking to external partners for aid.”

Dom Starkey, another history student, looked at the role of women from PwC during the war. Along with developing skills in research, communication and analysis, Dom also commented that “in a time where the world seems rather unrecognisable, it became easy to empathise with a world so far-fetched compared to what we knew a few months ago, making my research seem so much more relatable.” 

The students continued to work on the project and present their research findings during the COVID-19 lockdown. Ben Sharratt, from PwC, reflected on the process of working with the students: “Once again the project has been enjoyable and edifying…students from LBU have applied themselves to the task - not least in the testing times of the pandemic - with rigour, creativity and unfailing enthusiasm and it is a privilege to be part of such a collaboration. The depth of research and the way it is presented are enormously appreciated by today's PwC partners and staff and provide a sensitive and fitting tribute to those of yesteryear.”

Bridging the gap between university and employment, the Applied Humanities module gives students the confidence to take their ability to collaborate with others to the next level. By working with people inside and outside of the university, such as the Friends House Library, students developed a range of transferable skills that will come in very useful post-university. As well as working with external partners, students also undertook a range of employability skills training.

Ben Robertson, Schools & Careers Employability Consultant at Leeds Beckett University, played an important role in developing the module’s content and assessing students’ work. Ben said: “The Applied Humanities module provides students with career development opportunities by embedding real-world projects, with industry partners. Assessments on the module reflect graduate recruitment processes, and are designed to prepare students for Industry 4.0, requiring students to complete a presentation to employers, a LinkedIn profile and a video interview assessment answering both competency and strength-based interview questions.”

History student Dom said: “This module proved invaluable in my employability skills because I have little experience in the workplace compared to others and it helped me to prepare how I present myself in either CV form or in an interview”.

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