Are apprenticeships the answer to talent shortages in the sector?

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Skills shortages are a growing threat to practices – apprenticeships could be the answer

The pandemic – and Brexit, to a certain extent – has brought about a talent and skills shortage across the accounting sector.

Many firms are struggling to hire the right people while some are losing existing talent to the competition. A collaborative report published in June by the Professional & Business Services Council and the Financial Services Skills Commission revealed that 32% of accountancy and professional services firms are experiencing talent shortages.

Higher wages and increasingly competitive remuneration packages can only go so far in encouraging a wider pool of talent in the short term. It’s long been recognised that a long-term solution is needed to address the growing problem.

Part of the Government-driven Plan for Jobs scheme includes a series of apprenticeship initiatives. There’s recognition that apprentices can help plug the widening talent gap by equipping individuals with the right skills which benefits both the company and the individual.

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The Government is giving extra help for apprenticeships in the short-term to help with current problems. Under the scheme:

  • Employers receive £3,000 for every newly-hired apprentice.
  • Apprentices must be taken on between now and the end of January 2022 to qualify.
  • The cash incentive can be used to pay for – and not necessarily limited to – specialist equipment, uniform, travel costs, additional training, membership to professional bodies and/or any relevant licences.

The above help is available in addition to funding from the apprenticeship levy, which can provide 95% of training funding for smaller employers whose total annual pay bill is less than £3m. Levy funding is available for upskilling and can include existing staff of any age.

Given the clear benefits apprenticeships can bring to firms on a micro level, how can apprenticeships address the sector’s talent and skills shortages at a wider, economic level? We spoke to several accountants to find out.

Apprenticeships bridge talent gaps by upskilling the workforce through on-the-job training

Rachel Martin, Founder, accountant_she

This time last year, the business consisted of just myself and my fiancée. Now we are a team of nine.

Every employee we’ve hired over the last 12 months have been through the apprenticeship scheme. I was an apprentice myself and so I was absolutely certain that’s how I wanted to grow and scale my business.

We see growth and development with every employee, with every exam. The apprenticeship scheme gives apprentices the opportunity to develop lots of other skills which sit outside of the standard qualification.

The apprenticeship scheme absolutely bridges the talent shortages whilst also upskilling our workforce. Instead of sending all of our candidates off to university for 3 years to study an accounting degree, we get them here with us, studying on the job, learning the same content but also gaining that valuable work and personal development skills that come with apprenticeships.

Verdict: Apprenticeships bridges talent shortage gaps through on-the-job training.

Apprenticeships are a quicker, more sustainable solution to skills gaps than university

Richard Pilmore, Director, RLTP Accountants

Apprenticeships are a quicker way to train people and a lot faster than going to university. There will always be a short-term time lag where you need to start providing on-the-job training to apprentices for the first 6 to 12 months but after that, they’ll become an asset to the business with their newly-gained skills and knowledge.

Apprenticeships are government-funded and employers will receive £3,000 for every newly-hired apprenticeship in addition to the existing £1,000 received for hiring an apprentice who is either 16-18 years old or 19-24 with an education, health and care plan and/or has been in the care of their local authority.

The Government will also pay up to 95% of apprenticeship training depending on business turnover, under the apprenticeship training levy already in existence.

We are currently considering putting our existing employees through the AAT apprenticeship scheme and I’m looking into HR policies, health and safety procedures and other internal policies to ensure compliance.

Verdict:  Apprenticeships provide a short-term yet sustainable solution to the skills gap and quicker route than university.

Apprentices add a vital skills layer to accountancy teams from a workforce planning perspective

Kevin Winterburn, director, Sheards Accountants

Apprenticeships are certainly one of the answers to talent shortages. In any firm, you need a good spread of skills and abilities within your team, you can’t have everyone at the same level and with the same skillset. It’s important to keep an eye on what the profile of staff in your team will look like in two or three years’ time: it’s not just about what you need to do now, but how it’ll feed into what you need to do later, from a workforce planning perspective.

We often take on apprentices, but we didn’t recruit any during the pandemic. We’re now noticing the skills gap of someone who would have been 18-months into their apprenticeship. That skills layer is missing.

We need more people in the industry, that’s essential. By training individuals through apprenticeship schemes and getting them enthusiastic about their accountancy careers from a young age, they’re going to be positive and loyal assets to the profession.

Verdict: Apprentices can add a vital skills layer to accountancy teams from a workforce planning perspective.

Picture: Vivian Laditan, an apprentice with KPMG.

Annie Makoff is a freelance journalist and editor.

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