Accountancy has always been one of those careers where I assumed you would need to ace your degree at university and have the ability to solve complex maths mentally. However, it’s been refreshing to learn that there isn’t just one standard route into this line of work. Having the industry open itself up to apprenticeship programs mean that they’re not eliminating thousands of potentially talented accountants, simply because they feel that university isn’t the ideal route for them.
In recent news, it was announced that AAT have become an approved apprentice assessment organisation. This means that the AAT will have control in delivering End Point Assessments, which will allow apprentices to demonstrate their abilities and gain accounting qualifications.
Speaking more about how this will benefit incoming apprentices, Mark Farrar, Chief Executive of AAT said: ‘AAOs will deliver end-point assessments (EPAs) for the apprenticeships, which will allow apprentices to demonstrate their competence. As a result, we believe there should be an improvement in the quality of the apprenticeship scheme given the nature of having an independent assessment organisation evaluating their suitability to pass an element of their apprenticeship. In addition, accounting apprentices will have the opportunity to gain accounting qualifications from AAT, to boost their professional qualifications record along with their technical knowledge.’
So, what does this mean in terms of how apprentices will be assessed? Well, Farrar explained that end-point assessments will inevitably replace the current system, which involves continuous assessments applied within the existing apprenticeship framework. According to Farrar EPAs in accountancy will consist of two parts:
In terms of the opportunities it presents AAT, it’s an incredible step for apprenticeships within accountancy. However, part of making apprenticeships work is having the support from employers who will eventually hire these candidates.
Are accountants in high demand?
According to Morgan McKinley's Salary Guide, yes, accountants are in demand - particularly newly qualified accountants. This could be a gateway for apprentices.
In recent years, the attitude towards apprenticeships have started to thaw after being viewed as an option for under achievers. The fact that there are more apprenticeship opportunities across industries that we would have previously thought only accept candidates from a higher education background is a massive step forward. People are now realising the benefits of having apprenticeship schemes and hiring former apprentices who finish their programme trained and ready for the workplace.
John Williams, the Head of ACCA UK reiterated the importance of having the support of employers.
He said: ‘Employers are part of the success equation for apprenticeships. We see the accountancy sector employers taking an active role in the development and offering of apprenticeships. These apprenticeship products have to be relevant and they have to be designed with employers and apprenticeships needs in mind – and for ACCA that is part of our DNA.
‘There has long been a perception from employers that many young people lack the wide range of soft skills (team-working, communication, early stage leadership) as well as a clear understanding of how business operates. The new apprenticeships standards actually make these a requirement, and it would be good to see employers recognise this and continue to play a key part in nurturing a new generation of top talent.’
How skills are important
Setting apprenticeship standards isn’t where it ends though. The ACCA and AAT have both been vocal in the importance of amending the current term ‘apprenticeship levy’ to the ‘skills levy’ which takes other types of training into consideration.
Williams said: ‘Renaming it as the Skills levy should reflect the true nature of modern vocational training, which places a strong emphasis on the acquisition of skills relevant to the 21st century workplace. Yet this should be accompanied by recognition from government that levy monies can be spent on high quality traineeships and other forms of training which equip individuals with these skills. Whilst ACCA supports the government’s target of 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, the priority must be on the quality rather than quantity.’
This is an aspect that we’re sure a lot of people within the sector have voiced a concern about – the National Audit Office, Ofsted and Public Accounts Committee being some notable organisations to do the same.
‘Quality isn’t just a word, it means that the apprenticeship must be widely recognised and accepted by employers, deliver real skills that enable them to do the job they’re supposed to do and lead to long term employment, a good wage and the opportunity to progress,’ Farrar explained.
With the effort that the government has been putting into changing the tide towards apprenticeships, there are still some misconceptions according to Williams, however they’re much broader in range and scope than ever before. ‘The Professional Accountancy/Tax Technician standard introduced last year, which ACCA helped develop alongside the Big Four and SME employers, was an important step towards improving the visibility and status of apprenticeships and provides a good model of how employers and professional bodies can work together.’
Apprenticeships specifically within accountancy has been received positively though. Having always been successful with employers and students alike, firms like KPMG and Grant Thornton have developed ‘bespoke apprenticeship programmes’ which blend client work with study for AAT professional exams.
Approximately 20% of AAT’s 90,000 student base are apprentices, which reflects a growing popularity. What’s very telling is the praise that is heaped on these programmes with one AAT apprentice concluding that ‘An apprenticeship doesn’t involve making the tea and sweeping the floor, it’s challenging and involves much of the same work that graduates have to do but three years earlier – giving us a real head start on those with a degree.’
You can start your search here for an apprenticeship in accounting or other courses in accounting and finance.
Safeera is Editor of Hotcourses and a journalist from Kingston University. Always the inquisitive, her writing spans across a number of areas such as sustainability, fashion, lifestyle and now education. Her belief that you never stop learning and passionate nature has taken her to New York City as part of her degree and across the airwaves on national radio talking about the issues that matter to her.