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The Practitioner: Trainee woes

HAVING TAKEN on a trainee five months ago I now hoped he would be a bit more competent and confident than he is.

It seems that the extended Christmas break has wiped out his memory completely. Everything he was taught since joining the firm in August has been forgotten, and all his enthusiasm has gone out of the window.

Our success rate with trainees has been excellent to date, but this latest one is proving to be somewhat of a challenge. A challenge that the firm doesn’t really have the time to tackle.

Is five months long enough to give someone to prove themselves?

He started off a little but shy, had a couple of great months, and now seems to have dropped to a lower standard than he started on. I wouldn’t mind so much if he was a school leaver who fell into the job by accident, but he is a graduate from a good university and an accountancy and finance graduate to boot!

Today I had to explain the same thing four times before he finally understood what I was asking him to do. It wasn’t even a technical thing. It was like he was still half asleep. In the end it would have been quicker to do it myself. In a small firm teamwork is vital and if one person isn’t pulling their weight it drags everyone down.

It’s been a stressful time for accountants all over the country, with everyone required to step up to the plate, so I’ve made the choice to lay off the trainee and recruit another senior.

We have done away with charging clients by the hour and adopted a fixed fee billing approach.

Clients like the certainty, and it helps us to win new clients by comparing ourselves to most other firms who charge by the hour.

With this new fee model in operation it does rather make trainees more costly than in traditional firms.

Am I being too harsh do you think? Should I give him more time? Let me know what you think.

The Practitioner’s uncensored thoughts come from within their own practice – having left a regional firm in the heart of England


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  • ProudTaff

    Not at all, but this does sum up some trainees coming into practice. I do think that everyone is entitled to a three month probationary period at any level, but if it is not working by then its time to move them on.
    I started off in accountancy as a non-graduate office junior at the age of 26, going back to college and qualifying at 31 but watched a few high flying graduates fall by the wayside as their hearts weren’t in the role (perhaps it was my family and mortgage that gave me the focus). That said, having just survived another tax return season of the usual last minute and ungrateful clients I do wonder why I moved into public practice.

  • Pete

    Maybe you should sit him down and tell him straight that he appears to have gone backwards and that if he doesn’t improve over the next 3 months, you will have to consider letting him go. You expect a graduate with his qualification to be more than capable to do what he’s being asked.
    Problem with some graduates, they seem to think that they will leave Uni and be running the show as soon as they start working and they know more than everyone else, then after taking their first job, the reality sinks in!

  • Kelly

    The only thing I would say is perhaps something has happened to him personally over Xmas – perhaps somebody has died and his brain is actually else where – he may think he’s doing WELL by actually turning up.
    I would talk to him and ask if there’s anything you can help with as he doesn’t seem himself.
    I can’t see that having a Xmas break would make you lose you’re memory, sounds a bit deeper to me.

  • Stewart

    It seems a shame to get rid of someone whom you have invested so much in. It sounds like he has personal issues – has he been asked why his performance has been so poor?

  • DeloitteMK42

    You’re so wrong it’s not even funny. Here’s why:

    Have you considered that what you are getting the trainee to do is not relevant to his development? Hence the lack of interest.

    What training did you supplement him with? Did you ascertain what type of learner he is?

    5 months is ridiculous, and that is the reason why your claim of a success rate is hardly believable.

    A year maybe, but it sounds like you left this “regional firm” and joined a small one because you can’t take the responsibility. You can’t be asked to train someone so you take the easy option. Reading this post that doesn’t surprise me at all.

  • geust

    Plenty time – he’s not going to make it. Act sooner rather than later to protect the rest of the team.

  • dale

    I would suggest that you speak to the trainee about their performance and find out if there is any particular reason for lack of motivation etc. Give them another month or two to improve- make it known that you will have to let them go if there is no improvement ( explain the knock on impact on the team if everyone is not pulling their weight). There is also the possibility that having had a break they might be having second thoughts about job.

  • Sabeen Hussain

    I do think you should give the trainee more time. Perhaps theres something bothering him? I think you should sit down and have a serious talk with him before you decide to let him go. This will give him a good chance to make up for any previous mistakes.

  • honoraryWelshman

    We have had similar situations in our small firm. On the first two occasions we left it too long, blaming ourselves for insufficient or inadequate training, but eventually concluded (as it sounds like you have done) that it was unfair on the rest of the team for one person not to pull their weight. You need to move on and start investing in someone who will contribute. Trust me, however awful it might seem to have to fire someone, you will soon realise it had to be done for the good of the business. You have put heart and soul in to your business and don’t have to carry people who can’t perform.

  • Ndejoe

    Quite candidly, it’s the trainee’s approach to life and work that seems to be the problem, and not because you haven’t done what is necessary as support. Cannot be more time, as 5 weeks is pretty nice, or perhaps s/he needs to see a counselor.
    Again, it may be a family problem, lost a loved one?
    Or s/he may have lost their enthusiasm for the profession which was the basis for being selected in the first instance.
    As the trainee has been let off, it’ll give him/her time to rethink what they really want to do with their life, and hopefully realise what an opportunity they’ve lost.

    Do you want to take me on?

  • Pete

    @DeloitteMK42 – I take it you have always had the luxury of working with a “big” firm where the normal life is big audits.
    This is a small business and the work they will be doing is accounts prep and tax, Payroll bureau, VAT returns, few small to medium size company accounts/audits and some value-added work, business planning/forecasting, cashflows, etc, where the reality is that you need to start at the bottom and empty the plasterer’s damp, smelly bag of bank statements and invoices and actually construct the accounts, tick the banks, of those that have a basic book-keeping system and analyse payments.
    You start at the bottom, earn your stripes and work your way up and then gravitate towards your preferred specialism. Being a graduate in accountancy and finance doesn’t teach you those things, nor does AAT/ACCA for the uninitiated.
    Like ProudTaff below, I started in accountancy late (25) with a young family and mortgage, on a pittance for a smaller “regional” practice and worked my way up quickly by learning quickly and proving I was capable of being given the chance to try the next challenge – all while studying in my own time, not day release.