The positive impact of recruiting an accounting apprentice
For many accountancy firms, particularly smaller practices, taking on an accounting apprentice can seem very daunting or just not practical. This was the conundrum faced by Catherine Smith from Catherine Smith & Co Chartered Accountants and Tax Advisers. We recently interviewed Catherine to get the low down on her experience of taking on an apprentice and why she has never looked back since.
Q. What were the circumstances which led to you considering taking on an accounting apprentice?
Catherine: I had been steadily growing my practice since setting up on my own in 2009. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused an explosion of new business coming my way due to some accountancy firms furloughing their staff and their clients suddenly finding themselves without the accounting and tax support they needed. I quickly found myself with too much work to do and whilst I knew I needed help, I was reluctant to take on anybody else, including an apprentice.
Q. Why were you reluctant to employ someone?
Catherine: My main concern was that the pandemic would create a short-term increased workload and one-off assignments. I was reluctant to take on the expense of employing someone if I could not guarantee a continuous supply of work to firstly cover their costs but also to keep them useful and productive.
Q. What changed your mind?
Catherine: At the time, a lot of my clients were moving from desktop accounts packages to cloud accounting software, a factor that was also prevalent with new clients I was taking on. I did not have the time each day to devote to bookkeeping work for my clients. Plus, I was also running the payroll for many of my clients, some were monthly, but many were weekly payrolls and consequently I had not been able to take a holiday for a long while. I needed to address this.
I was chatting with Simon Deane from Accountancy Learning one-day and mentioned my predicament. Simon explained that with their Talent Programme service they could help me find a suitable apprentice who would meet the needs of my growing practice.
Q. What type of apprentice were you looking for?
Catherine: I was very clear on the type of person I wanted. I felt that someone who was either returning to work or looking to change career would be most suited to my practice. I did not need someone with previous experience of bookkeeping or accounting, but I did need someone who had the right attitude and a desire to learn these skills.
Q. How did Accountancy Learning help?
Catherine: Working with Victoria Longstaff on the Talent Programme, we confirmed the job description and person spec, along with the type of person I was looking for. Having someone who would fit in with me, my working practices and my clients was of paramount importance. I was looking for an apprentice who would work 20 hours per week, but I was clear in saying that there was no guarantee of a job at the end of the apprenticeship.
Accountancy Learning then advertised the role. Victoria sifted through the applications, shortlisted the relevant candidates and carried out the first round of interviews. This process was done so smoothly and professionally, it gave me one less thing to worry about. The outcome was I employed a lady who was keen to return to work after raising her family. Her positive attitude and personality were just what I was looking for and the fact she was also studying for an Open University degree in Computing and Maths showed that she was keen to learn.
She is currently studying with Accountancy Learning for her Level 3 Assistant Accountant Apprenticeship , including the two bookkeeping units of the Level 2 AAT qualification. This includes their excellent remote learning and support facilities, which fit in well with her work and home life.
Q. What difference has employing an apprentice had on your practice?
Catherine: I cannot believe how hugely beneficial it has been taking on an accounting apprentice, not just for the practice, but also for me personally. Despite having a disability, my apprentice is now carrying out many of the day-to-day tasks for my clients including bookkeeping for VAT and non VAT registered businesses, reviewing bank statements for personal and business transactions and helping to set up practice management support systems for the practice, which will automate our processes to create more capacity. Furthermore, she is now getting involved with the weekly and monthly payrolls and in the next couple of months she will be able to do this with minimal supervision, which means, amongst other things, that I will finally be able to take a holiday!
Having an apprentice has freed up my time in so many ways. It has enabled me to clear the back log of work I had, plus I can focus on more important tasks and work more closely with my clients to deliver a better quality service to them.
Q. What would you say to other accountants and sole practitioners who are in a similar position to where you were 12 months ago?
Catherine: Firstly, speak to Accountancy Learning, they have so much experience of recruiting, training and developing accounting apprentices and they know who and what will work best for your circumstances.
Then, you need to be clear on who or what you are looking for. Based on my experience, considering a mature student or someone looking to retrain was a bonus for my practice. I would not worry about taking on someone who did not have previous accounting experience; in fact if they come to you without any experience you do not have to retrain them out of any bad habits!
Furthermore, I would not be put off employing an accounting apprentice who has a disability.
Finally, look for complementary skills and abilities when shortlisting and interviewing. Having the right personality and attitude can be more important than qualifications and grades.
If Catherine’s story resonates with you and you’d like to have a no obligation discussion about the whys and wherefores of recruiting an apprentice, do get in touch with Paul Hollis, Accountancy Learning’s Business Development Manager on 01392 244071 or email [email protected].
Whilst we are based in the South West, we have the learning and support infrastructure to be able to recruit, train and develop accounting apprentices across the UK. You may also be able to access government funding towards their wages and training.