From education to employment

City Hall event discusses accountancy apprenticeship standards, the apprenticeship levy, and social mobility

AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) has held a joint event with the National Apprenticeship Service to discuss new apprenticeship standards and the incoming apprenticeship levy for businesses.

The event, held on Thursday 28 April in London’s City Hall was attended by over 40 representatives from business and professional bodies who are engaged in apprenticeships and who may potentially need to contribute towards the new apprenticeship levy. Chaired by Andrew Williamson, AAT Director of Marketing and Commercial, the speakers consisted of Sue Husband, Director of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS); Lea Watson, AAT’s Trailblazer expert and apprenticeship lead; Michael Walby, Director of Professional Qualification Training at KPMG; and Pete Ward, from social mobility charity Leadership Through Sport & Business.

AAT’s Lea Watson opened the event by outlining the new Trailblazer apprenticeship standard for accountancy which has been designed by organisations including Baker Tilly, KPMG, NHS Employers, PwC, and with accountancy bodies including AAT, ACCA, CIMA, CIPFA, and ICAEW. The standard sets out the knowledge, skills and behaviour that will be exhibited by a successful accountancy apprentice on completion of their apprenticeship, to ensure that training is of consistently high quality across different organisations.

The Trailblazer standards put employers in the driving seat and are designed by employers to appeal to employers and help them get the skilled staff they need. More information on these new standards can be found at

The second speaker was Sue Husband from NAS, who discussed the apprenticeship levy and gave answers to some questions employers have been asking the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills (BIS). This included clarifying that funds from the levy can only be used by employers on apprenticeship training and assessment, rather than on wages or traineeships; that levy funds will expire 18 months after they enter an employer’s digital apprenticeship service account unless they are spent on apprenticeship training; and that if a group of companies are connected for the purposes of paying the levy, their group will be able to collect their funds together in one account. 

Michael Walby from KPMG was up next, who took the opportunity to “make the case for apprenticeships from an employer perspective, and not simply because we have to take them on”. He outlined how KPMG has gone from a view of hiring university graduates as the best way to get skilled staff, to seeing the benefits of hiring school leavers as apprentices. Michael talked about how KPMG sees apprenticeships as a way to look past academic history and widen access to the accountancy profession. He also mentioned how the organisations and professional bodies who came together to create the Trailblazer apprenticeship standard for accounting had the ambition to widen access to the sector, having listened to reports from bodies such as the Child Poverty Action Group on social mobility saying that the accountancy profession is in danger of becoming quite closed off to people from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

The final speaker at the event was Pete Ward, from Leadership Through Sport & Business. Stating that “there can sometimes be a hesitancy to take on disadvantaged young people”, he discussed how his organisation works with bright young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them access high-level careers in business and finance which would otherwise be out of reach for them. The charity helps the young people complete apprenticeships and move into full-time employment, with 91% of their apprentices completing the programme, 80% staying with their apprenticeship employer (compared with 66% nationally), and 100% being in full-time paid employment after six months of completion (compared with 85% nationally).

AAT’s Andrew Williamson said: “Apprenticeships are an integral part of who AAT are and what we do. We constantly see people who study our apprenticeships change their lives and start careers they may not have been able to access otherwise. We were pleased to see a mix of employers of different sizes attend our event, and are pleased to see that interest in apprenticeships is gaining pace across the country as a good option for training and getting highly skilled staff.”


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