Della Hudson explains why apprentices are good for your business, in spite of the paperwork.
My first employee was an apprentice. I had waivered between a part time qualified accountant who would hit the ground running and a full time apprentice whom I would have to train but who could be trained exactly the way I wanted to do things.
Taking on an apprentice allowed me to pay a lower salary initially and, although I hated doing this, it was the only way that I could afford to grow my business.
I could also afford to set aside 12 months salary for the apprentice in my deposit account, to ensure that I would have enough to at least train him through one year of AAT.
Accountancy training has traditionally followed a mixture of theory and in-house training so the apprentice scheme is ideally suited to our profession. AAT courses are widely available and the college may even be able to help you with recruitment.
The employer is mainly expected to:
- pay for any college training which is not covered by grants
- allow the individual a day off work per week to study
- pay the apprentice for five days a week
- provide relevant on the job training and report on this to the apprenticeship provider
We have always had great success with our apprentices as they are keen to learn. We are able to pick the right person who has a client service mentality, and then add on the technical accountancy.
Under the apprentice scheme there was plenty of paperwork and, with subsequent apprentices, this has increased threefold. Last year I filled in three sets of almost identical paperwork and my apprentice filled in even more. I even considered paying the college fees myself to save the hassle.
For the first apprentice the college came and helped me with the paperwork to enrol him on the course and to part fund this (as he was over 18) and also to apply for a one-off grant which I put towards a desk, chair, laptop and software licences.
Support for employer
I was disappointed in the lack of support from the various training organisations when it came to recruiting an apprentice. You are very much on your own with this. For our first apprentice I tried to get in touch with the National Apprenticeship Service.
As I knew nothing before taking on my first apprentice there was all sorts of support that I needed but, in spite of several calls, emails and requests for information I never received a response from our local representative. Hopefully this has improved since then but, four apprentices later, I now know what I’m doing.
Working with colleges
The support from the colleges is variable and one that we used was particularly helpful (our apprentices choose their own college/course).
However, none of our colleges sent results or reports directly to the employer, so there is no official way of knowing how your apprentice is doing academically or even if they’ve turned up at college.
By contrast there are lots of reports for the employer and apprentice to send to the college about on the job training and experience.
On the plus side we found that having a trainee gave us lots to tell our clients about in our monthly e-news and on social media.
The AAT structure means that, every month or so, they are passing exams and as the “selfie generation” they are often happy to pose for PR photographs, which helps us to promote our firm as a modern, forward looking business with happy staff.
The young are our future
If we can appeal to a younger audience then we can attract younger clients, which will make the business more sustainable with a prospect of continuing to another generation.
I would highly recommend looking into apprenticeships, even for a small firm. It is an opportunity to help youngsters, as well as to train the accountant that you want.
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Della Hudson was part of the class of 2009. She built up Hudson Business Accountants and Advisers from her kitchen table to a small team of flexible workers with independent premises in Nailsea, near Bristol. The firm ran regular Money Matters seminars and other training and webinars. Della sold the firm in 2017 in order to focus on the...