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Trainees: Nurturing your future

Philip Fisher suggests that by taking proper care we can make the most of our trainees and ensure that they develop and make a significant contribution.

25th Sep 2019
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September is often a time to welcome fresh junior members of staff. These may be recent graduates from university or, increasingly, school leavers keen to save tens of thousands of pounds by skipping the pleasures of varsity life.

Far too frequently, what starts out as a noble venture on both sides turns very quickly into disaster. Sometimes, this is inevitable but there can also be neglect on the part of an employer, who sees an opportunity to get cheap labour without caring about the feelings or future of human being who joined them in good faith hoping to commence a worthwhile career.

A classic example has found its way to me recently, relating to a very bright young man who left school and decided to join a large firm’s tax department.

Within months rather than years, he gave it up as a bad job. At an informal exit interview, three beefs were apparently identified.

  1. Little opportunity to experience a satisfying variety of work.
  2. Not a single chance to experience meetings with clients.
  3. No clear career progression or visible sign of appreciation.

Many of us will see junior staff as a necessary evil. Taking on youngsters who have never worked in their lives, beyond a weekend job in the local supermarket. Frequently these aspiring accountants arrive straight from school, university or after enjoying an intoxicated world tour with unreal expectations of what lies ahead.

Adjusting to the disciplines of working life often takes time. We very reasonably do not wish to invest that time, knowing that there is work that needs to be done and finding it frustrating that salaries are being shelled out to someone who isn’t pulling his or her weight and may well be winding up managers with too much on their plates.

Some of the problems might be down to the recruitment process. The more care that you take the better the chances of recruiting a young star who will make a difference from day one.

As part of their investment, firms really should take much greater care over training on the job, providing recruits with wide experience and instil a sense of self-worth at the earliest opportunity. Taking along a new trainee to a meeting is unlikely to have any adverse consequences and will make a difference. He or she can sit in a corner taking notes, learning much about business and life in an hour or two.

When this hopeful was starting out in the profession, the firm’s senior partner showed great trust by asking him to appear on behalf of the practice in front of the General Commissioners of Inland Revenue (as they then were) within a few weeks of recruitment.

The circumstances were unusual but this was an unforgettable experience and helped an uncertain young man to feel valued, even if he also felt petrified.

There may also be also situations in which the most junior member of the firm is the most useful. For example, a maths graduate with fantastic spreadsheeting skills could well run rings around everybody else in the practice, proving to be worth their weight in gold and allowing you to charge partner level rates for someone who is getting paid peanuts.

The alternative is to treat youngsters like slaves. If you do so, the experiment will be a disaster and your investment, albeit modest, will have been wasted.

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