How MKS boosts its business with AAT apprentices By Marianne CurpheyApprenticeships 8 Sep 2023 Early Talent Manager Jez Brooks explains how AAT apprentices are contributing to Moore Kingston Smith. “Our juniors have always been essential to the job. They’re not wrapped in cotton wool, they’re not protected, they have real responsibility and they make a genuine contribution to the business from the outset.” So says Jez Brooks, Early Talent Manager in charge of recruiting new AAT trainees at Moore Kingston Smith (MKS), an accountancy firm with six offices in London and the South East. He argues MKS’s approach to using apprentices fosters client relationships, ensures continuity in client services and contributes to the firm’s long-standing presence in the community. So what motivates MKS to use apprentices? The apprenticeship programme at MKS has been in place for several decades and is well-established within the organisation. The programme has evolved to provide opportunities to career starters, career changers and those returning to work. “Our apprentices bring energy and vitality,” says Jez. “In a sense, we are looking for unpolished diamonds. It is important that they can adapt to change because this is a changing industry. They need to be open-minded and flexible about what they want to do and where they might go.” In return, the apprenticeship programme opens up a broader talent pool for the organisation. It allows the firm to attract not only university graduates but also school leavers who might still be living in the local community. This approach builds relationships with local schools and colleges, providing a clear career path for students interested in local employment opportunities. There’s a need to dispel the notion that university is the only path to a successful career. School leavers today are more informed and aware of career pathways beyond just university. Jez Brooks, Early Talent Manager at MKS MKS’s apprenticeship pipeline and how it implements its scheme MKS provides professional services, audit and accounting and has around 750 staff, of which around 180 are trainees and around 30 are on the AAT apprenticeship route. MKS offers a two-year apprentice programme, with trainees studying AAT Level 3 and 4 Jez and the team use multiple recruitment channels, including specialized websites, to help attract a diverse pool of applicants. Offering real client exposure and responsibilities from the outset enhances apprentices’ learning experiences and makes the firm an attractive place to work. Establishing a strong support network, including buddies and training managers, helps apprentices succeed. The programme enables trainees to take on increasing responsibilities as they progress through the qualification. By the second year of their apprenticeship, they can supervise new junior trainees and handle more complex tasks. As apprentices move through their apprenticeship journey and obtain their qualification, they become qualified supervisors and can advance to higher positions within the firm. At the entry level Part of MKS’s apprenticeship pathway is helping AAT students understand how a business works and what’s expected of them. There have been discussions around whether there is a skills gap between the expectations of employers and the skills of new graduates and apprentices. Jez says that while generational differences exist, it’s important to note that the apprenticeship programme focuses on developing skills required for the workplace. “The behaviours that you expect of a person in a professional services accounting firm are actually pretty much the same behaviours you’d expect someone in retail, finance or tech sector,” he says. “You have to engage, listen and be part of the team. You have to be able to communicate. So that’s why when we recruit, we do so on the basis of transferable skills and potential for the future. We will then train the person in the requisite professional competence capability to do that job.” Ensuring accountants are real-world ready “AAT students make a real contribution to our teams and to our business success as a whole,” Jez says. “Our juniors are an important part of the team. Wherever they’re working, they’re making a contribution. They are delivering our revenue work, and they are billing time to our clients. “We are giving our trainees responsibility from the outset,” he explains. “They are not shadowing in terms of the roles that they do. They are part of the client accounting and audit teams and they have responsibility for not just doing the basic work on an account but progressively more complex and supervisory work.” The way apprentices progress Jez says that while there may be some initial differences between AAT apprentices and university graduates in terms of life experience, the work experience and skills acquired through the apprenticeship programme eventually level the playing field. AAT apprentices, with their practical work experience and AAT qualification, are positioned to achieve the same career progression and opportunities as graduates who follow the university route. Indeed, by the time their training is over, AAT accountants have developed highly valuable personal and professional skills which open many career paths, including eventually becoming a partner. The AAT apprenticeship program allows trainees to reach chartered status within four years, compared to the three years typically required for university graduates. However, the real work experience gained by AAT apprentices over the four years gives them a strong foundation for career growth. Ultimately, the manner in which individuals entered the firm becomes less significant as they progress and excel in their roles. Branching out The AAT apprenticeship route at MKS can lead to obtaining recognised qualifications, including chartered status, and allows for progression into different areas within the accounting field, such as audit, general practice, tax, corporate finance, financial advisory services, and more. “The apprenticeship scheme gives you a good basis to work from but doesn’t necessarily commit you to forever only doing one kind of role as an accountant,” says Jez. “There are lots of different ways in which apprentices can progress”. Plus, “apprenticeships are a terrific route into a career. The AAT qualification establishes you on a path to a career but if you want to change, then that’s absolutely fine. It’s about building skills and knowledge for the future, creating an employable person who can communicate and work as part of a team. Those skills are vital in any job in any sector.” So which applicants does MKS go for? “We are looking for energetic and dynamic individuals who are open-minded and flexible,” says Jez. “These traits are crucial due to the evolving nature of the industry and the changing needs of clients. The younger generation, particularly Gen Z, is digital-savvy and capable of understanding the impact of digital advancements on the field.” To be considered for a role, applicants need 96 UCAS points, or three A Levels at grade C or above, or International Baccalaureate or BTech qualifications. They do not need to have any prior accounting knowledge and the apprenticeship program allows trainees to start their accounting careers with practical work experience on the job. Conclusion The AAT qualification provides a clear pathway for apprentices to progress as accountants or auditors It offers essential grounding in various disciplines, making apprentices well-rounded professionals Practical skills gained can be applied in real-world situations, such as accounts preparation and audit planning AAT apprentices can build relationships with clients and junior trainees, taking on supervisory roles as they progress Apprentices gain confidence, capability, and qualifications while working on real tasks. 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.