The Apprentice

IT’S BEEN WELL publicised that government plans on the future of higher education could see thousands of young people deciding against university tuition fees of about £9,000 a year, and instead opting for alternatives such as apprenticeships. However, as a former accountancy apprentice myself I’m surprised the profession is not publicising this route more.

Even though the AAT route has been around for decades, many firms have a tendency to automatically take a yearly intake of graduates without considering school or college leavers. Having gone down the apprentice route myself, with all my peers choosing university, many were surprised by my choice, however on reflection it has been an exceptionally successful path for me, leading to rapid promotion, a rounded skill set, a vast network of contacts and all the associated rewards that come with a successful career in accountancy.

Firms still have a long way to go in working closely with local colleges and careers advisers to ensure school leavers who are keen to get into the sector know all the routes available to them. For me, I knew I wanted to be an accountant and saw going to university as delaying the inevitable; going down the AAT route meant working in a practice from day one.

In the next few years we are likely to see the gap between the number of apprentices and graduates recruited by a firm closing, as the pool of graduates becomes smaller and firms start to see the benefits of taking on school and college leavers. Of course, there will always be a place for quality graduates but there needs to be more focus on alternative ways into the profession.

It’s clear that some firms are still nervous about taking on school/college leavers – fearing their maturity and work ethic may not be to the required standard. In reality it’s all down to the individual. In my experience, I’ve found school and college leavers to be hungry for success, with many grateful for the opportunity and therefore more loyal to the firm that’s given them the chance. What’s more, you’re working with a blank canvas and have someone with no preconceptions that can really fit into the firm. Also many practices don’t realise that apprentices often have increased technical proficiency from learning on the job.

It’s vital accountancy firms examine their recruitment policies and infrastructure to ensure they’re getting the right people and not discounting a huge talent pool. For some firms, this will mean adopting a different mind-set and redressing the balance. As potentially less candidates go to university due to changes in the education sector, firms must not make the mistake of relying solely on graduates. Both graduates and school / college leavers must be ready for the challenge and must be prepared to take on the commitment. University is certainly one route into the profession, but it is not the only way.

Matt Smith is an Associate Partner in the business services team of Hurst

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