Procter amp; Gamble, one of the world's largest companies, has replaced graduate recruitment with apprenticeships at its global financial services centre in the UK.
The company said graduate-only recruitment programmes had not always provided the skills it needed for accountants at its headquarters in Newcastle. It has now chosen to recruit school leavers and prepare them to handle the finances for 200 companies doing business worth pound;20 billion a year.
It is also using successful apprentices to spread the word at schools in the North East of England, a move which more than doubled applicants from 70 to 160 this year.
Karen Liddle, finance manager at Procter amp; Gamble, said: "Previously, our graduate-only recruitment programme hadn't always delivered the skills that we need for the business. So we chose to look for an alternative and decided to look at school leavers."
Now it is relying on graduates only where a foreign language is required, since the finance centre has to liaise with people speaking 23 different languages at businesses across western Europe.
The emphasis on apprentices at the company, whose US parent is ranked 22nd in the Fortune 500, provided a boost to the prestige of the programme at the start of Apprenticeship Week, which ran until today.
Sonja Howell, apprenticeship programme leader, said that, contrary to the complaints of some business leaders, the company had been pleased with the quality of school leavers.
She said: "The people that we recruit are dedicated, they're very loyal, they want to be here and they make the transition from study to work very easily: getting up early, and continuing to do accountancy exams like it's a step along from their A-level studies."
The apprentices distinguished themselves through their comfort with technology and for their ability to adapt to each of the three business areas they worked in during their training.
The company also provides progression routes for apprentices, with a bespoke degree in accounting and financial control taught by Northumbria University. Its graduate intake with language degrees pursues the same course.
Rebecca Kelly, from Sunderland, has just graduated from the three-year programme, which culminates in the degree and in a job offer as a first- level accountant, and was one of the apprentices involved in recruiting the next intake.
She said: "Many of my friends who went to university are now in debt and struggling to find a job - I feel very lucky to have been able to finish the scheme with both a degree and a secure full-time job."
Jane Scott Paul, chief executive of the Association of Accounting Technicians, which accredits the accountancy NVQ in the apprenticeship, said companies were motivated by the business benefits of apprenticeships, although many will also receive public subsidy which can make training apprentices more attractive.
She said: "Their experience in recruiting apprentices as school leavers has been more successful than their experience in training graduates."