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Helen Bloodworth

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Getting the most from apprentices


Helen Bloodworth talks us through starting steps and considerations when taking on an apprentice in the lucrative field of finance and accountancy.


Understand that taking on an apprentice is a long term investment. It's important to think clearly about what you need in an apprentice. If you think an apprentice is just there to help with a backlog of work then it's probably worthwhile going back to the drawing board. It's a big responsibility and you will be responsible for their career development so it's important that you can support them properly. If nurtured well, they can be moulded with specific skills to suit your business proportion but you do need to have a strategy in place to ensure they are being managed, mentored and trained efficiently and effectively.
A good starting point is the NAS (National Apprenticeship Service.) An NAS representative can guide you through the candidates they have available on their system and introduce you to training providers that suit your business. Their website is a good port of call for any general enquires you may have. Don't be afraid to ask questions to ensure you fully understand what is expected of you as an employer. Make sure you are familiar with study leave requirements, apprenticeship wages and funding.
Don't stop there - think about other places you can advertise for your apprentice. It is worthwhile having good relationships with local schools and colleges in order to learn more about young people in your area with an interest in your sector especially if you are hoping to take on more than one apprentice. Open days are a great way to build relationships with schools and colleges and for you to meet young people directly interested in apprenticeship programmes.
"Don't be afraid to ask questions to ensure you fully understand what is expected of you as an employer. Make sure you are familiar with study leave requirements, apprenticeship wages and funding."
Get the most out of the interview process. We use psychometric testing, which allows us to get a good idea of candidate's attributes and their personality. While naturally we require individuals with certain academic qualities, we also want to make sure our apprentices are a good cultural fit for us. Don't be afraid to have more than one interview. Group interviews can be very beneficial as it allows you to see first-hand how well your potential apprentice interacts with a range of people. We find school leavers can be very enthusiastic but in some cases can take time to settle into the working world so it's important to invest time at the interview stage to get to the candidates that really work for you.
The right training matters - spend time investing in the right qualifications so that you know your apprentices are getting the right foundations needed for the job (you can discuss this in more detail with training providers that will have experience of helping other businesses in your sector). We've always used the Association of Accounting Technicians. It is well recognised within our industry and gives our apprentices the skills they need for their day-to-day work as well as reassuring us that they have the right skills to carry on to become chartered accountants. The better the training, the more value they'll bring to your business.
Expect a few hiccups at the beginning especially as getting things right can take time. Ensure your apprentice has a mentor within your organisation. Ensure your apprentice and your mentor have regular meetings. It's important for your apprentices to have support in order for them to flourish and grow. A mentor can act as the first port of call if there are any issues, concerns or problems.
Put a contingency plan in place - some apprentices can struggle with training and working at the same time. While we have found this to be rare, it's good to have precautions in place. By having a contingency plan for those that aren't performing, you are eliminating problems further down the line and are being clear and concise about what is expected of the apprentice. At the end of the day you need to ensure the apprentice fully understands their commitment to the business - they need not only to be passionate about work but also studying and balancing the two can be tough for some.
There is funding available for apprenticeships but the funding does depend on the age of your apprentice and the sector of business. The government is injecting more money into apprenticeships especially with the small employer incentive which was introduced in 2011. While it is recognised that apprentices can be very worthwhile investments they can only add real value if the employer has a strong strategy in place to ensure their development and growth.
This article first appeared on AAT Comment. Helen Bloodworth is training manager at Baker Tilly


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