As National Apprenticeship Week (8-14 February 2021) begins, AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians, @YourAAT) is urging people of all ages to consider taking up apprenticeships to boost their skills and employability in the face of the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. 

Previous research by AAT has shown that there is significant interest in the accountancy profession as a stable career choice, with 19% of respondents in a recent survey saying they believed accountancy, banking and finance were the most stable professions. AAT has also seen an uptick in interest in apprenticeships, particularly from young people interested in studying vocational qualifications as alternatives to university, as well as a rise in enquiries from school leavers. 

This is echoed in findings from KPMG released this week, which show how the firm has been supporting its apprentices throughout the pandemic. This includes strengthening support to help apprentices gain their qualifications following the company-wide move to remote working, maintaining engagement with existing apprentices and adapting their onboarding process for new apprentices who joined the business in October 2020. 

Anthony Clarke, Business Development Manager, (Employers), AAT, said: 

“During the last twelve months apprentices and their employers have faced huge challenges, but they have been able to adapt and progress despite this and we applaud them for their resilience and determination. AAT is encouraged by the commitment to apprenticeships our clients continue to show in recruiting and developing apprentices, both now and in the future. 

“The past year has led many people to reconsider their options, including pursuing a role in a more stable profession with in-demand skills such as accountancy. An apprenticeship can be an ideal way to gain these skills through studying with AAT alongside working, enabling apprentices to implement what they’ve learned whilst on the job and see how their studies can be applied practically. 

“Now, more than ever, is the time for people to invest in their skills to ensure they can succeed in a rapidly changing business environment, including developing the strong financial acumen and technical accountancy skills needed in the economic landscape we find ourselves facing. National Apprenticeship Week showcases the incredible commitment shown this year by apprentices, employers, colleges and training providers and is a great opportunity for people to reflect upon the next steps in their career. Whether it be those about to finish full-time education or people interested in a change of career – including a move into the accountancy sector – we encourage people who have been thinking about taking the next step to look at the possibilities that an accountancy apprenticeship could open up for them as they build their own futures.” 

Emma Noble, KPMG360° Apprenticeship Performance Leader, KPMG, said: 

“Since all 17,000 KPMG employees – including our 600 apprenticeships – moved to remote working in March 2020, we have supported our apprentices by encouraging them to continue working on their Skills and Behaviour submissions and End Point Assessment activity. This helped them to remain engaged with the programme and ensured they had ongoing contact with the training provider coaches. Additionally, we chose not to rotate our apprentices into new teams in May 2020 so they would be able to stay with the team they had worked with in the office for six months, rather than having to adapt to a new team and learn a new area of the business, and encouraged our apprentices to support each other as well as reminding them of Covid support options and initiatives. 

“We also worked with our training provider to provide additional support for apprentices, including extra self-study days, relaxing criteria around the number of exam attempts permitted, and live support sessions for each module which were tailored to best suit the students attending and gave them an opportunity to ask questions before their exam. Our apprentices also have access to a wide range of existing support including tutors, online forums, and a dedicated performance support team. 

“Lastly, we welcomed 220 new apprentices in October 2020 and so have adapted our induction process for new apprentices. This included running a weeklong virtual event in small groups, facilitated by two trainers, and with a focus on networking and apprentices getting to know each other, as well as signposting available support and the importance of building networks and community for success.” 

Busting the myths around apprenticeships 

The theme of this year’s National Apprenticeship Week is ‘Build the Future’, encouraging everyone to consider how apprenticeships help individuals to build the skills and knowledge for the future. 

Although the common perception of apprenticeships is that they are aimed at school leavers and primarily focused on jobs in the trades, in fact apprenticeships are open to people of all ages and available in a wide variety of sectors, including accountancy. AAT welcomes anyone who is interested in a career in accountancy or bookkeeping – regardless of age, background or school qualifications – and believes apprenticeships are a vital route into the accountancy profession, allowing people to study and work at the same time. 

Anthony Clarke added: 

“Historically, apprenticeships were commonly perceived as only being open to young people and focused traditionally on manual sectors. This has changed significantly in recent years with the introduction of Apprenticeship Standards really raising the bar for apprentices and employers alike when it comes to skills development. AAT welcomes people regardless of age, school qualifications or background who are interested in a career in bookkeeping or accountancy – and is keen to encourage people of all ages to consider undertaking an apprenticeship to boost their in-demand skills for the future and go directly into employment. 

“Apprenticeships also have huge benefits for employers, helping to develop well-rounded, highly qualified professionals who can help upskill the business as a whole. For employers who are already taking advantage of the apprenticeship levy, they can make the levy ‘work harder’ for them by using apprenticeship pathways to support current colleagues’ development and progression, as well as recruitment of new talent.” 

Case study: “My apprenticeship has helped me develop massively as a person and an employee” 

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After leaving college with A Levels in Economics, Business and Geography, Ben Rowsell, 19, decided to pursue an apprenticeship in order to gain professional qualifications alongside a salary and hands-on experience. 

“I chose to do an apprenticeship as I knew it would allow me to delve into the professional working environment and attain knowledge that I couldn’t have gained in a classroom,” Ben explains. “It also allowed me to move out of home and live in London, allowing me to mature and develop.” 

Ben began his KPMG360° apprenticeship and studying AAT Level 3 in October 2019, four months after finishing his A Levels, and has enjoyed the opportunity of being part of a large firm. 

“Undertaking my apprenticeship at KPMG has allowed me to build a large network and meet some amazing people through which I’ve learnt a lot. I feel inspired and encouraged to improve for personal development but also proud to work in teams providing high quality services and products to clients. I’ve also joined the scuba diving club through networking, which allowed me to meet some great colleagues and undertake my hobby alongside them, gaining an additional PADI Dry Suit qualification.” 

And, despite the challenges of undertaking accounting-based qualifications, the support from his classmates and employer has been invaluable. 

“Learning some of the content was difficult but having classes, revision resources and other apprentices to consult made overcoming this challenge far easier,” Ben says. “The camaraderie with the other apprentices I’ve been in classes with has been the best part of studying – undertaking classes together, revising in groups and helping each other has helped me build friendships and networks I hope last throughout our careers! 

“There’s also a multitude of support available through my employer – they fund our training and provide us with study days for pre-arranged tuition which tailors our work and placements to ensure we meet our apprenticeship requirements. We’re also given study leave before and on the day of exams and are supported by our Professional Qualifications Training and Accreditation (PQA) team and our training provider. I’ve always found my questions to be answered and a high level of support is given when needed.” 

Ben is currently studying for his AAT Level 4 qualifications, and believes his apprenticeship has helped him enormously to develop as a person and an employee. 

“I’ve learnt lots about working in a professional environment such as knowing your audience, being professional and representing your firm and values, having a strong work ethic, being a team player and completing work to a high standard,” he says. “I’ve also endeavoured to improve my communication skills and presenting to clients and teams, which helped me to develop my confidence, preparation and teamwork – all of which are applicable to my apprenticeship coursework too. 

“AAT qualifications have allowed me to build a foundation with accounting theory, knowledge and learning which can be directly translated into my job and build up experience. I recently completed the External Auditing module of Level 4, which has helped my understanding of auditing and how it is a fundamental practice. Studying with AAT has allowed me to gain qualifications which will ultimately allow me to progress to more senior roles and positions throughout my career.” 

Case study: “I’m gaining practical experience and highly regarded qualifications to stand me in good stead for the future” 

For Harriet Gooch, taking on an apprenticeship after her A Levels gave her the opportunity to learn whilst working. 

“I'm gaining practical experience which allows me to do my job, as well as highly regarded qualifications to stand me in good stead for the future,” Harriet explains.  

Harriet is currently studying for her AAT Advanced Diploma in Accounting alongside her role as a Trainee Accountant at Lovewell Blake.  

“It’s a varied role which allows me to help a lot of people within my work and work with others doing the same thing,” she says. “I particularly enjoy together working with my colleagues in various jobs and overcoming difficult problems to complete a set of accounts.” 

And whilst her experience of studying has been different than she expected due to Covid-19, she’s been able to tackle the challenge with support from Lovewell Blake and AAT – and even gain some new skills. 

“Adapting to studying online has been tricky to get used to, but I’ve found that it works well,” Harriet says. “I’ve also gained more skills in communication and IT due to more of my courses being on Zoom, which is very different to communicating in person, but it’s been a great opportunity to improve on this. 

“There’s also lots of support and guidance for studying available as well as resources online to help,” she adds. “My employer encourages my training too by providing extra internal courses and a mentor to help and train us on the job as we go.” 

Harriet is now looking ahead to the benefits her AAT qualifications will bring her – both now and in the future. 

“Studying AAT has been really informative and relative to my job. I find it helpful to get training and qualifications that I can use while I work, and which will open doors as I progress in my career.” 

For more information about taking apprenticeships supported by AAT accounting qualifications, please visit AAT apprenticeships. 

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