Stefan Volkmann is a 2020 graduate of the Willy Brandt School. We recently caught up with him to see what he's been up to since he graduated and to have him reflect on his time at the school. He is currently working with KPMG Deutschland as a Public Sector Consultant
Hi Stefan, thanks so much for joining today. To ger started, could you go into some detail about what brought you originally to the Brandt School? What made you want to pursue your master’s in public policy?
As a German, I was looking for an international, English-speaking program on practical political science without having to move far abroad. Erfurt turned out to be a perfect place to experience a part of Germany I have never been to before, while exposing me to the policy perspectives of dozens of visiting nationalities.
Could you go into some detail about your previous academic/professional experience from before you came to the school?
I came to Brandt School as a librarian with very varied backgrounds in i.e. NGO HR and finance, data analysis and some project experience in management consulting and audit.
So, I understand you did your internship with KPMG and then found a job with them after your studies, is that right? What brought you at first to KPMG and what sort of work were you doing during your internship?
Correct, I actually had two internships with them and one at another firm, which in total encompassed nearly one year of experience. In all cases, I was assigned to support one or multiple projects, ranging from digital transformation of international firms to auditing public authorities. Most frequently, this included tracking to-do lists, preparing emails or slides, minuting meetings, or creating analysis tools. Consulting internships like these aim at giving you an understanding of the project lifecycle from acquiring a mandate and executing it to the administrative work that is required in the background. Generally, you contribute a part of a work package or do quality checks without the client noticing you; however, on many occasions, I got the chance to come along to client sites and got responsibility for entire deliverables – this kind of opportunity, diversity and trust is what I was seeking and is why I returned there after Brandt School.
What specializations did you have during your studies at the Brandt School? Did they help inform your decision about what professional track you’d want to take or did you already know what sort of work you would want to do and chose specializations that would help you in that track?
Their precise wording have slipped my mind, but I recall going all in on the economics and development policy courses. Both were new to me and I got a solid foundation, especially using quantitative methods. Wherever possible I focused on the last policy cycle segment of “evaluation”. Together, all these learnings fused in a thesis project, where I conducted a program evaluation for a UNESCO branch, though this discipline is only one smaller part of what I work with today.
I understand that you were a student researcher with Professor Kemmerling. What kind of work were you doing with him?
Correct, that was a great time! Some work was rather administrative (i.e. for the School leadership) and gave me a broader picture of the course of public policy in the academia. More frequently, I helped out by preparing upcoming classes or exercises, which helped solidify my understanding of the subjects even more. Lastly, I recall supporting in the creation of Professor Kemmerling’s research and publications. This involved categorizing many reference and source papers, which gave me an even better insight into the economics and outcomes of development policies.
What kind of work are you doing now with KPMG? I saw that you do public sector consulting. Could you go into some detail about what public authorities you work with and what sorts of projects you take on for them?
At least after the outbreak of COVID-19, every major audit and consulting firm has dedicated teams to support public authorities, where their capacities do not suffice or where a neutral perspective is needed. The latter are said audits, where an authority requires a neutral party to evaluate their (programs’) conduct, i.e. as an assurance towards the finance ministry or donors. The former makes up most of my work and mostly involves different aspects of digital transformation. Comparatively, Germany has always lagged behind in public digital services, though combined with factors like demographic change, getting away from paper forms and fax has become an urgent matter. To put it into perspective: thousands of German public servants will retire over the next decades, but only few new ones join in. Unless all processes are designed more efficiently, there won’t be enough workforce to keep the state and its services running, in the future. The public sector has already too few personnel to deliver such a grand change by itself – and this is the reason why opportunities within “public sector consulting” are growing with each year.
Is there anything else you'd like to add for current students or recent graduates?
A few things that make sense to add in this context: This abovementioned growth of opportunities in the field resulted in not just me but three other Brandt School alumni to join KPMG, as of today. Even if you picked up e-Government and similar topics from the MPP, the actual digitalization of big bureaucratic processes is something that all of us had to learn from scratch, I believe. That’s a challenge, but also a rewarding, continued learning curve alongside the job, meaning your background basically doesn’t matter. Only being able to speak and write German in its most formal form is an firm requirement.
Thanks so much for joining us!
About the interviewer
John M. McElfresh is a second year MPP student at the Willy Brandt School.
~ The views represented in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Brandt School. ~