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Apprenticeships: Why a firm and an apprentice chose this route

4th Mar 2019
Editor AccountingWEB
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Human resources

To mark national apprenticeship week, AccountingWEB hears why an apprentice chose this accounting path and why their firm has recognised the importance of apprenticeships. 

Beyond keeping pace with digitalisation, there is no bigger issue in the profession than recruitment. AccountingWEB has tracked the different routes firms are using to beef up their teams and "growing your own" is often top of the list for many hoping to plug the profession's recruitment gap. 

Our evidence is confirmed by the AAT, who found in 2017/18 that the number of accounting apprentices has increased by 12% compared to the previous year. And it's not just in the accounting profession where apprenticeship numbers are growing. In 2017/18 almost 164,000 people started on one of the new apprenticeship standards.  

To get a deeper understanding of how beneficial apprenticeships are for both employer and apprentice, BDO has pulled back the curtain on how apprenticeships have benefited their firm. It's hardly a surprise that apprenticeships rank high on their recruitment agenda; after all, their managing partner Paul Eagland started his career as a school leaver apprentice.

First up, we hear from Emily James, who joined BDO in 2017 as a school leaver and since joining the firm's apprenticeship programme is studying towards her ACA qualification. Afterwards, BDO's head of people Teresa Payne discusses why the firm places so much importance on apprenticeships. 

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Why I chose to do an apprenticeship, and how it has benefited me

Emma JamesEmily James, audit trainee, London

I work as an audit trainee in our consumer markets team, meaning I work with clients mainly in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, and have been in my role for the last 18 months.

I have always liked the idea of accountancy and knew a bit about the ACA qualification before I applied. Despite wanting to look into the prospect of an apprenticeship I was heavily encouraged by my teachers to go down the university route. It felt like they didn’t have a huge understanding of the alternative routes to accountancy.

Within my family not many people have gone to university, so my parents were very supportive of my decision and had some prior knowledge of this type of apprenticeship program. The idea of not being in any student debt also appealed a lot!

I applied for a few apprenticeship schemes but the interview with BDO stood out to me as I was made to feel very at ease, and the assessment centre (whilst nerve-wracking) was less intense and actually more fun than I expected! I think even these initial first impressions can often reflect the true culture of a company, something I think is becoming increasingly important to students and graduates.

I am admittedly quite a reserved person and was worried this could hold me back, especially since I had never been in a corporate environment before. However, the level of responsibility I have been given, and the opportunities to attend meetings with clients and senior leaders in the business has really boosted my confidence. I’m not sure I would have been given this exposure so early on elsewhere.

The biggest challenge with an apprenticeship of this nature is ensuring you can juggle both your day-job and studying for your qualifications. To say it is easy would be a lie, but it is all about balance and organisation.

Thankfully trainees are given time off to study and we don’t sit our exams during our busiest times. A major bonus is the opportunity to get advice from colleagues within the business as many of them have come through the business via the same route as me and know exactly how I might be feeling and the day-to-day challenges.

A number of my friends have also chosen to go straight into employment rather than university, so we are all juggling our social lives around work too. Downtime away from work is still really important in order to switch off and give your brain time to rest.

My number one piece of advice for anyone considering going down the apprenticeship route would be to remember that there are always other people to lean on and support you; it can be daunting but you are never alone!

I would like to see more teachers and careers advisers championing these types of apprenticeships, as for me and many others it has been 100% the right choice.

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Why BDO is recognising the importance of apprenticeships

Teresa Payne BDOTeresa Payne, partner and head of people

This year, BDO is recruiting for 550 trainees, including over 150 school-leaver apprentices across our 17 UK locations. Our trainees are the next generation of leaders and we want to ensure that these individuals reflect the demographics of society today, with trainees from a variety of backgrounds including those who chose not to go to university.

Historically, apprenticeships may have been associated with more vocational subjects and many still believe that to work as an accountant or business adviser you must have a degree. We want to ensure that the accountants and advisers of tomorrow know the options available to them.

I am proud to say that many of my colleagues at BDO, including me, are not university graduates, but this has not limited our career. Our managing partner Paul Eagland, who now heads up the UK firm of 5,000 people started his career as a school leaver apprentice.

In the past, I have been asked how the apprentice vs graduate route differs at BDO. Whichever route a trainee chooses, they are treated with the same respect and given the same chance to progress. There are various routes and most of our apprentices and graduates have the opportunity to complete a level seven qualification, equivalent to a masters’ degree.

Since 2016, as part of its ‘New Economy’ campaign, BDO has been calling on the government to reform the school system and give higher-level apprenticeships an equal weighting to university when reviewed by Ofsted. Many of our current trainees tell us they did not feel supported enough by teachers or college lecturers when considering an apprenticeship, and we believe this needs to change.

So for anyone who thinks the university experience isn’t for them, who is keen to avoid student debt or who wants to ‘earn and learn’ and kick-start their career, an apprenticeship might just be the right choice.

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