Line managers: How to mentor and manage an apprentice

Mentoring can have many benefits for you and your practice and offer a great opportunity for the young person you support to develop important personal and professional skills.

In order for it to be most effective, line managers need to set up a proper system and set goals and objectives with the mentored person.

An appetite for mentoring

A recent survey by AAT found that despite the current lack of opportunity, many AAT members would relish the chance to meet with someone more senior and develop their skills.

The AAT survey carried out in April 2019 found 37% of accountancy professionals could like the organisation where they currently work to implement a mentoring programme.

The report Mentoring and Accountancy: Why be a mentor? , questioned over 200 members and found there was a huge appetite for mentoring. However, only 45% of respondents said they had received mentoring support, compared with 81% working in advertising and marketing. Levels of mentoring in accountancy are low compared to other industries.

Line managers leading by example

Emily Coltman FCA is Chief Accountant at FreeAgent, an award winning accounting software for small businesses. She says learning by example is key.

“Managers and seniors must lead by example as junior members of staff can learn a lot by observing other experienced accountants at their work,” she says. “This is something that I have personally benefited from, especially during my first practice role.

Interpersonal skills will become increasingly important as the accountancy industry changes. Effective communication with clients is what will add value and differentiate your practice.

“The accountancy profession has definitely always been about more than the numbers,” she says. “It’s an important part of the job, but a good accountant also possesses good interpersonal skills to be able to explain financial concepts in plain English to non-finance professionals. Junior members of staff should therefore be taught these skills during training.”

Making time to mentor

“Being a manager, you have so much going on day-to-day and need to rely on experienced staff, so taking on juniors or inexperienced workers can be challenging, says Lee Frame, director and co-Founder of The Audit Lab.

“I do feel it’s important and hugely beneficial to be able to train up those who are willing to learn and with plenty of ambition.”

He says the key to successful mentoring is an open communication channel with your trainee and having the resources to hand prepared in advance.

“Know before you take on any trainees what resources they may need and be willing to invest time and money in those. Create a schedule and stick to it; if anything important does pop up and interfere, be sure to make that time up to not fall behind or let your trainee down.”

Putting in the right structures

Pushfar is a new platform to help students and professionals to go further with opportunities for networking, mentoring and career progression. Its CEO and founder is Ed Johnson, who came up with the idea after struggling to search for a mentor.

The three key elements to a great mentoring experience are matching, management and reporting, he says.

“At the start it is important that all mentors and mentees in a relationship are truly happy with their matches. Then, throughout the mentoring process it is important for both the individuals in mentoring relationships to manage them effectively by scheduling regular meetings, having set goals to work towards and being able to build up a relationship.”

Finally, for those managing mentoring it is important for them to be able to offer insights and report on the successes andchallenges in each mentoring relationship, he says.

Giving effective feedback

Alan Price, workplace wellbeing expert and CEO at HR software firm, BrightHR, says consistency is the key.

“Telling someone they have done a ‘bad job’ or ‘didn’t do too well’ is likely to be too vague and present difficulties for the employee when trying to take these comments on board in the future,” he says.

Many mentors worry about putting too much pressure on mentees, setting unrealistic expectations and adding more pressure to the mentee’s existing day job. “Create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based) objectives based on the questions in your exploratory session” says Alan.

These objectives could be based around demonstrating the improvement of skills like coding or financial metrics, soft skills through developing personal relationships or conflict management, or even creating a detailed personal development plan.

Making the most of the branch network

Rosie Berridge is director of Accountability, a practice in Edinburgh, and Chair of the Edinburgh branch of the AAT.

“We are considering setting up future scheme to encourage mentoring in our branch network,” she explains. This follows a speech by Sylvia Baldock, team engagement and collaboration specialist, which offered tips on mentoring at the AAT Annual Conference.

“We thought it would be an amazing function of the branch network if we could bring people together in that way and inspire younger accountants in their career.

“As a committee here we are very keen on engaging with students. We have set up a student network and have speakers to come to those events. The next step is to put in place a mentoring scheme that matches people. In the branch network there is scope to enable these personal interactions.”

Key takeaways

  • Mentoring takes time and patience – don’t expect the process to be straightforward all the time
  • It can boost your business and help you grow if you pick bright, ambitious young people who are willing to learn on the job
  • Make sure feedback is delivered with sensitivity and is constructive
  • Allocate appropriate resources for mentoring

Tips

Erica Wolfe-Murray is a leading business growth and innovation expert, having worked with countless fast-growth companies. She has these tips for accountants who want to grow and develop their business and their staff:

  •  Ensure the mentee really is looking for a mentor, and wanting to engage, rather than having one foisted on them.
  • Be clear about what both parties expect from and are prepared to contribute to the relationship, which may last some years.
  • An experienced line manager will be able to brief both the mentee and the mentor clearly ensuring the relationship gets off to a good start but should also be able to step in if needed.
  •  The success of the mentoring should be discussed and can be seen in the employee’s appraisals.

One of the most important aspects is mutual respect, she says.

“The mentor has to see that the mentee is capable and wants to grow their experience, wants to hear, learn, share, understand. But the mentee has to also be prepared to contribute, explore, debate. It is a two-way relationship that both mentee and mentor should value.”

In summary

  • Know before you take on any trainees what resources they may need
  • Be willing to invest time and money
  • Create a schedule and stick to it
  • Set objectives with the mentored person
  • Review goals regularly
  • Make sure you listen to feedback
  • Remember that it is a two-way relationship

Further reading:

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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