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Generation game: Firms grapple with new trainees

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With legions of young accountants joining the profession every year, firm managers are wondering if these trainees are prepared for the world of work.

24th Jan 2022
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As the vanguard of Gen Z school and college leavers begin making their first forays into the accounting profession, employers in the industry are finding it increasingly difficult to hire and retain quality staff that fall within this age bracket.

This increasingly contentious issue was not lost on Any Answers readers, with some finding it difficult to work with the newer generation of trainees entering the fold.

“These kids just can't cope with a 9-5, five day working week but commercially I have to have someone at that pay grade doing the bottom work,” writes active contributor atleastisoundknowledgable. 

While they mention that their firm has thrown around ideas including shortening the work day, it seems the practitioner could not find trainees to carry out the job to a high enough standard.

Valued team member?

Yet, others questioned how one can reasonably expect young people to stay or work productively when paid the decidedly low national minimum wage for school leavers.

Sitting at £4.62 an hour for 16-17 year olds (with an increase of 19p from April 2022) some argue that simply raising the minimum wage for trainee staff can help to enthuse and inspire young starters beginning their careers.

AccountingWEB user Yeadonian offers an example of this from their own trainee journey. As an AAT school leaver, they started with a firm that paid, in real terms, around £17,000 a year; an increase of nearly double the national minimum for school leavers.

To compound this, other contributors noted that, with other, less demanding jobs paying substantially more for similar age ranges, firms not offering adequate remuneration will struggle to both acquire and retain burgeoning talent.

‘A generational thing’

The inherent generational differences over what is deemed a quality work-ethic also recurrs throughout the discussion. Some users suggested that young people just don’t seem well-equipped for the trials and tribulations of the working week. 

Thanks to Covid disrupting the in-school learning structure, contributors asked whether the past two years have created a sense of “lockdown fever” in young people as they reemerge from yet another round of restrictions.

Summing up the mood, AccountingWEB regular I'msorryIhaven'taclue said that a visit to a factory or abattoir will “let (trainees) see what awaits them if socks aren't pulled up.”

Others have decided to circumvent the younger generation of trainees altogether in favour of hiring older, more experienced workers on a part-time basis. 

Any Answers regular Susan56 proposed that older people “are not looking for career progression” and offer a greater level of experience than their younger counterparts, removing any real need to offer training by employers.

Investing in the individual

However, Adam Shelley from the 2021 Accounting Excellence award winners Sobell Rhodes disagreed. Instead, he championed the potential benefits a younger generation can bring.

“The world continues to evolve and I think you have to adapt; we try to learn what the younger generation are looking for.” Shelley noted. “You can't just be static. Whether it's involving (new starters) in team surveys, department meetings, socials, whatever it may be, you get a feel from the people themselves.”

To accelerate their progression, Sobell Rhodes set out a comprehensive starter programme to breed confidence and inspire new employees to fulfil their potential.

Working from the Investors in People framework, trainees are paired up with a mentor during their first few weeks at the firm. A comprehensive induction runs along side, from the interview stage into their first review and beyond, with individual needs accommodated within their training strategy. 

According to Shelley, this approach has paid dividends, with many apprentices and trainees developing into essential team members as well as bringing in skills that are unique to a younger, more tech-savvy generation.

“Trainees are very switched into the modern world. The way of connecting now, it's not necessarily the way that older partners would connect,” he said.

Community-minded

This focus on understanding the needs and career aspirations of this new cohort of trainees has not only helpe Sobell Rhodes mould new starters into valuable team members, it also has a wider, community-focused benefit.

“I think it's important to also support the community. We are looking at initiatives with local schools so we can support local people and, whether it’s forums, events, schools, colleges, we want to be a firm that offers that opportunity to young people.”

While the debate continues to rage over how to tackle this issue, the Great Resignation rolls on, with employers increasingly looking to fill the gaps in their firms. With this in mind, practitioners may have no choice but to hire from the younger generation and grapple with the problems that follow themselves.

Replies (4)

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By johnjenkins
25th Jan 2022 10:43

We have had 3 trainees, all studying AAT at college but none had the ability to understand what work was all about. It would appear that "responsibility" was not in their vocabulary. I shall continue to search for that elusive "someone" that is prepared to work hard for a stake (and eventually control) in a diverse and lucrative business.

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Della Hudson FCA
By Della Hudson
25th Jan 2022 13:43

Schools are focused on passing exams and don't really have the opportunity to prepare pupils for work so it is down to us. We work with local schools to offer work experience and attend careers fairs and this allowed us to cherry pick some of the better school leavers for ourselves.

We've always been lucky with trainees but then we've always paid well above minimum wage. We need to look at market rate. My own 16 year old is earning £9.35 per hour doing supermarket work so I know I need to pay school leavers at least that amount. If we want to recruit the best we need to be prepared to pay accordingly.

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Replying to HudsonCo:
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By johnjenkins
25th Jan 2022 15:28

I went straight from school into Accountancy so maybe it's the college bit that does the damage. I can only assume that in college they have all the figures neatly laid out instead of having to collate the figures in the first place. I'm going to try your method and see what I get.

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By janejordan
09th Feb 2022 21:33

My firm has been recruiting apprentices for around 10 years with mixed results. We have had some fantastic trainees who are hard working and pick things up quickly, and some who can not focus for more than 5 minutes and use any excuse to take time off. I think you can usually tell within the first few weeks what the person will be like .

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