How 1Accounts uses AAT apprentices to shape their organisation

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Paul Donno, Director of 1Accounts explains why AAT apprentices are so valuable to his business.

The most recent AAT apprentice at 1Accounts wasn’t recruited from a traditional job advertisement or a local college. Instead, she found out about the vacancy at the family-run business in Haverhill, Suffolk, via Instagram and TikTok.

It’s a far cry from the traditional accountancy practice which is often dependent on manual processes and paperwork. 1Accounts was already fully digital before Covid and uses AI and modern practice management software to handle workflow.

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“We’re trying to bring facts and helpful knowledge to our clients and other users, but also we like to share that we’re a family business, and our main passion is to help businesses grow,” says Katie Donno, Client Care Manager. “We are not boring accountants – we like to have fun. We like to make people feel comfortable and social media is an extension of that. Jess had followed us on social media for a while and at 29 she is our first older apprentice who is coming back to work after having children.”

What motivates 1Accounts to hire apprentices?

Jess Dunn is the fifth AAT apprentice to join 1Accounts. Qualified accountant James Revell, MAAT, is testament to the success of the strategy which is focussed on bringing in new talent. Having joined as a school leaver six years ago, he now mentors new apprentices and runs his own team within the company, while working his way towards ACCA accreditation.

“Bringing James on board as a school leaver has been an absolute success,” Paul says. “When I was first starting out in the world of work I had the opportunity to train in accountancy via the old Youth Training Scheme (YTS), which was an apprenticeship scheme. That gave me a great start, and now I want to do the same for the school leavers that we taken on. We take youngsters from the local schools after A levels and give them all the structure and training they need to be experienced, well-rounded accountants. In return the apprenticeship scheme helps us as a small business because we are supported by government funding, and it provides excellent on the job training.”

1Accounts apprenticeship pipeline and how it implements its scheme

Paul first began to consider recruiting apprentices when the business started to expand. Being an owner-manager can be busy and time-intensive, and it can be all to easy to neglect planning your talent pipeline, but he was determined to ensure that this side of the business was given proper attention.

“This year we have grown from ten employees at the start of the year to 16 now, and when you get to the size that we are now you’ve got to start planning and thinking about the future,” he says. “It is a four to six year investment for us, and so the AAT scheme is excellent because at the end when they qualify our apprentices have the technical knowledge, they understand ethics, they have integrity and they are able to be involved in client-facing work.

“As a small business, there is an investment of your time taking on a school leaver. This way, we can train our people so that in two to three years’ time our apprentice will be doing client facing work.”

Ensuring apprentices are real-world ready

Adrian Tonge, FCCA, Accounts Manager, supervises and mentors the apprentices in their technical skills while Katie puts a programme in place to help them understand how to deal with clients. Apprentices have a full day each week to go to college or study online and they shadow experienced staff members when they are in the office.

What does progression look like?

“Apprentices are very much involved in the business from the beginning, and we encourage them to have their say at office meetings,” says Katie. They are allocated weekly jobs via our practice management software and given feedback on their work to help them develop their skills.

“When we take them on they are very young and raw,” says Paul. “As a small business we can give them a more rounded experience, give them responsibility early on and more earning potential.”

He says that the relaxed and modern culture of the firm means that it is important that apprentices understand how the business works, and how it is different from a more traditional accountancy practice.

“We want them to learn and understand our ways and the way that we work. The new apprentices have never experienced a traditional firm, but we don’t do timesheets, we play pool, we’ve got a football table, a drinks fridge and four dogs in the office.”

Recruiting for attitude, not just qualifications

One of the reasons that the apprenticeship scheme has been so successful is that Paul has made the decision to recruit young people for their energy, enthusiasm and positive attitude, and not just their qualifications.

“They need to have the right attitude at interview,” he says. “They need to be able to communicate and we are always impressed if an apprentice has done their homework and had a look at what we are doing on social media.”

School leavers have great digital skills, are willing to learn how to use software and keen to integrate technology into their workflow, he says.

How has 1Accounts benefited from hiring AAT apprentices?

The business is going from strength to strength, with Paul recently having been nominated for West Suffolk Business Leader Award and Katie been nominated for Employee of the Year. “We don’t have a hierarchy and I am not bothered about job titles,” says Paul. This informality and approachability has also made them popular with clients, who come from the construction industry, creatives and charities.

“Our apprentices all come from different backgrounds and they each provide something different,” says Paul. “We have just hired Jess and Harry is studying AAT Level 4 and they are so enthusiastic and positive, and that makes such an impact on the business. By the time they are qualified, they have real world work experience and great technical skills, without the debt they might have incurred if they had taken the university route.”

What do apprentices gain from the scheme?

Harry King, apprentice, joined 1Accounts straight from school and says that the structured AAT programme has been a significant advantage, helping him understand and apply accounting principles effectively.

“Balancing work and study was a challenge, but it taught me excellent time management,” he says. “Comparing the apprenticeship to university, I’ve learned that the choice depends on personal goals. I liked the apprenticeship because I could earn while studying, gaining practical experience along the way. It’s been a hands-on and fulfilling path for my career.”

James Revell, MAAT said he also found the structure of the AAT training and the projects very interesting. “Personally, I opted for the apprenticeship as it allowed me to continue to study while earning without student loans,” he says.

Find out more about apprenticeships

Find out how apprenticeships are run and see how AAT can support you with running your scheme successfully.

Start now

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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